Side by Side Comparison: Top 10 Cheapest Colleges for Foreign v US Students

Screenshot from the Department of Education's College Affordability and Transparency Center
Screenshot from the Department of Education's College Affordability and Transparency Center

The U.S. Department of Education recently launched a great new website, the College Affordability and Transparency Center, designed to help students get information about the cost of an undergraduate college education.

One of the neatest features is a little tool that lets you look at lists of institutions with the highest/lowest tuition and highest/lowest net prices. The net cost lists are particularly interesting – they take into account all the costs of attending university (tuition, fees, housing, books, etc.) and subtract the average amount of aid received in order to find out the true average cost for a student.

But international students beware. That list of net costs only applies to domestic students – and for public colleges, it only applies to in-state or in-district students. Some colleges DO offer a lot of aid to international students, and make an effort to keep the net cost low, but they may not be the same colleges that offer a low net cost to domestic students or state residents.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the top 10 highest and lowest net cost lists you’d get using the college cost tool, and the top 10 for international students, based on our calculations.  You can see right away that the results are quite different for international students.

1) Lowest Net Cost

4-year Private Non-Profit Institutions:

College cost tool Net Cost ($) International students Net Cost ($)
Universidad Teologica del Caribe 82 Berea College* 209
Talmudical Academy – New Jersey 469 Gettysburg College 2972
Colegio Pentecostal Mizpa 1776 Skidmore College 3268
Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary 1876 College of the Atlantic 3790
John Dewey College – University Division 1956 Paine College 3820
Turtle Mountain Community College 2031 Southwestern Christian College 4033
Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico – Ponce 2208 Yale University 4449
Southeastern Baptist College 2699 Kentucky Mountain Bible College 5024
Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America 2839 Trinity College 6507
Our Lady of Holy Cross College 2874 Wayland Baptist University 6585


4-year Public Institutions:

College cost tool Net Cost ($) International students Net Cost ($)
Sitting Bull College 938 Alabama State University 263
Escuela de Artes Plasticas de Puerto Rico 996 Fort Lewis College 6199
South Texas College 1317 University of West Alabama 7386
University of Puerto Rico-Aguadilla 1591 Haskell Indian Nations University 7760
University of Texas Pan American 1646 Alabama A&M University 7998
Indian River State College 2138 The Citadel 8243
University of Puerto Rico-Bayamon 2345 South Dakota State University 9474
California State University – Dominguez Hills 2451 University of Science and Arts at Oklahoma 9478
California State University – Los Angeles 3263 Kentucky State University 9991
Elizabeth City State University 3335 Missouri Southern State University 10174


2) Highest Net Cost

4-year Private Non-Profit Institutions:

College cost tool Net Cost ($) International students Net Cost ($)
Art Center College of Design 39672 Fordham University 56454
The New School – Parsons 39004 Art Center College of Design 56190
School of the Art Institute of Chicago 38965 Rhode Island School of Design 55805
The Boston Conservatory 37798 New York University 55542
California Institute of the Arts 36997 Bard College at Simon’s Rock 55432
Manhattan School of Music 36208 Johns Hopkins University 55390
Rhode Island School of Design 35991 Carnegie Mellon University 55286
Pratt Institute 35506 Duke University 55150
Santa Clara University 35245 School of the Art Institute of Chicago 55090
Northwestern Health Sciences University 35062 Pitzer College 55080


4-year Public Institutions:

College cost tool Net Cost ($) International students Net Cost ($)
University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio 24192 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 48331
University of Guam 23902 University of Colorado at Boulder 46729
St. Mary’s College of Maryland 21468 University of Vermont 44838
Rowan University 19344 University of California:Los Angeles ** 41784
Miami University – Oxford 19305 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus 41725
Pennsylvania State University – Main Campus 19056 Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus 41548
Pennsylvania State University – Altoona 18878 University of California: Davis 41085
Pennsylvania State University – Erie-Behrend 18857 New Jersey Institute of Technology 40758
University of Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh 18786 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 40680
Pennsylvania State University – Penn State Berks 18048 Colorado School of Mines 39551


Pretty different, huh?

Where do these numbers come from?

There are some nuances about how the Department of Education calculates net cost, which will explain why they’re not valid for international students.

First of all, they calculate total cost using the lowest available tuition rate, which for public universities is only available to residents of the state or district in which the college is located. Secondly, their calculation for average financial aid received includes federal loans and grants, that international students are not eligible to receive. Finally, and this one might be a little nitpicky, they calculate the cost of room and board using a weighted average of all living options, including living at home with family, which is typically not an option for international students.

I calculated the net cost for international students using the same basic calculation as the Department of Education – total cost minus average aid – but inputted values that would be more relevant to foreign students.

I used the total cost reported by the Department of Education for out-of-state students living on campus (or off campus if on-campus housing was not an option).  The value of average aid received comes from the College Board International Student Handbook 2012.

* = Total cost was calculated using information on the school’s website rather than the reported number in the Department of Education’s data, which appeared to be incorrect
** = Average international student aid was taken from a PDF prepared by the OACAC for 2009/2010, because no number was reported in the CollegeBoard handbook

Some caveats:

The Department of Education lists use net cost as reported for 2008-2009. My calculations for international students used the most recent data available – 2010-2011 for total cost and 2011-2012 for aid.  That will obviously create some inconsistencies in comparing the two.

The average amount of aid received is only calculated for those students receiving aid and does not take into account what percentage of students received aid. This is the case for the Department of Education data and the College Board data. For a good analysis of the most generous schools for international students taking into account the number receiving assistance, look at

Finally, this information is just meant to show you how big a difference there is between what net cost looks like for a domestic student compared to an international student.  It will not tell you exactly what you will pay for college at any given school, and great financial aid offers may be available at schools that ended up on the list of most expensive schools.  Everyone’s situation is different.

Click here to see the full spreadsheet with all the data I used – feel free to email if you find mistakes (there was a lot of copy/pasting involved in creating this) or if you want to help fill in all the missing data to create a really complete resource.  I only inputted the data I needed for this exact calculation, but it would be interesting to have a really complete data set.



    1. Hey brother there is no college in the US for $1500 usd except you get a scholarship but you can email me on my email address to find out about colleges with scholarship aid my email is hope to hear from you soon man

  2. I am looking for an Engineering University in USA , where my son can get Admission in 2nd year . He has completed his 1st year from Heriot Wat University -Dubai .He is doing his Mechanical Engg . The University should be affordable and of good rapport . He would be joining for year 2013-14 in 2nd year of the session
    Appreciate if someone can guide me for the process -admission and Visa formalities etc plus the cost /year/semester and total cost including Boarding/lodging and ways of support fromk the University – as we have limited budget

  3. I am looking for a bible school with low cost for me as International student…(Christian School.)Thanks.

    1. Try Biola University in La Mirada. Its a great school. Asl well as most majors, it has nursing, a special engineering program which is finished at University of Southern California with a BS and MS.

  4. I am looking for a college in America that gives fully scholarship for undergraduate course for international students, am interested in law or engineering especially petroleum engineering

    1. hi! it’s been months since your comment here. i just wanna ask whether you have the answer to your question. because i happened to have the same problem, i am interested in petroleum engineering.
      thanks, Anne

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