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The 25 Most Affordable Universities in America for 2021

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Deciding whether or not to attend college can be a daunting life choice. It’s no secret that the costs of college keep getting more expensive, which may require students to take out loans or apply for grants. According to a recent report from Educationdata.org, the average cost of college in America is now $35,720 per student, per year. That number has tripled in just 20 years, thanks to an annual growth rate of about 6.8%. 

That said, the cost of college may be worth it in the long run. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), those with a bachelor’s degree typically earned about $1,310 per week in 2020, while those with just a high school diploma typically earned about $780 per week. That difference in median wage can add up quickly, as can the earning potential for those with college degrees. 
Plus, there are ways to make college more affordable. Students can also apply for grants and scholarships, which they typically don’t have to pay back, and there are lots of good, affordable universities in America to consider as well. If you’re looking to save money on college costs, start with the top cheapest universities in the USA, listed below.  

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Most Affordable States in America by Tuition

The 25 Most Affordable Universities in America for 2021

  1. University of Washington
    Location

    Seattle, WA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of Washington operates campuses in Seattle, Tacoma, and Bothell. The school serves over 54,000 students through 18 schools and colleges. UW awards more than 12,000 degrees annually. And it is recognized for its initiatives and global impact in teaching and research. UW ranks as one of the least expensive four-year degrees in the state. Roughly 60% of undergraduates receive over $400 million in financial aid. About $250 million is available in scholarships and grants. In addition to its campus-based programs, UW offers 17 affordable online degrees. Distance learning options include bachelor's degrees in early childhood and integrated social science. Full-time students can complete these programs within two years. At the master's level, students can enroll in fully online or blended programs. Options include education, management, healthcare, engineering, and information science. UW is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

    • Graduation rate: 83%
    • School status (public/private): Public
    • Annual tuition cost: $12,001 on average
    • Number of programs offered: 135 undergraduate 
    • City Location: Seattle, WA
    • Admission requirements: SAT Critical Reading 600-700 / SAT Math 620-760 / ACT 27-32
    • Contact: 206-543-2100        
    • Website
  2. CUNY Brooklyn College
    Location

    Brooklyn, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Brooklyn College became part of the City University of New York system in 1961. It is the first public coeducational liberal arts college in New York City. The school enrolls over 18,000 students in approximately 75 programs. Program options include business and education. Other options include natural and behavioral sciences and humanities and social sciences. Brooklyn College has served as a pathway for success for thousands of alumni. This includes several U.S. Senators, federal judges, and Olympic medal holders. The college offers affordable tuition, interest-free payment plans. It also offers generous scholarships and financial aid packages. Brooklyn College has become increasingly selective, accepting only 40% of all applicants. First-time applicants must have an SAT score of at least 1000 or the ACT equivalent. Brooklyn College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

    • Graduation rate: 55%
    • School status (public/private): Public
    • Annual tuition cost: $3,000 on average
    • Number of programs offered: 58 undergraduate 
    • City location: Brooklyn, NY
    • Admission requirements: SAT Critical Reading 520-610 / SAT Math 540-630 / ACT data not available 
    • Contact: 718.951.5000   
    • Website
  3. Purdue University
    Location

    West Lafayette, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Established in 1869, this Indiana-based public research university serves 43,000 students. It does so through nearly 300 programs. Purdue University administers programs in pharmacy, healthcare, veterinary medicine, and management. In 2018, the university created Purdue Online. This serves as an integrated initiative of online courses, certificates, and degrees. Purdue Online makes affordable online degrees available at the undergrad and graduate level. The university helps learners reduce costs by offering credit for work experience. It awards grants to transfer students from selected community colleges. It also provides tuition discounts for employees of partner corporations. The university grants some form of financial aid, including grants and scholarships. About 46% of new students receive aid. Purdue is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

    • Graduation rate: 71%
    • School status (public/private): Public
    • Annual tuition cost: $12,527 on average
    • Number of programs offered: 141 undergraduate 
    • City location: West Lafayette, IN
    • Admission requirements: SAT Critical Reading 590-680 / SAT Math 590-730 / ACT 25-32 
    • Contact: 765-494-4600        
    • Website       
  4. University of Florida
    Location

    Gainesville, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of Florida is now the third-largest college in the Sunshine State. It enrolls over 52,000 students. UF offers over 100 undergraduate majors and 200 graduate programs. UF's college of engineering focuses on increasing diversity among its graduates. This is especially true for underrepresented minorities and women. The most popular fields of study at UF include marketing, business, and engineering. Additional programs include communication and biological and biomedical sciences. UF also offers over 20 online majors and five minors. Each online program at UF delivers coursework asynchronously. UF is a regionally accredited institution.

    • Graduation rate: 87%
    • School status (public/private): Public
    • Annual tuition cost: $8,057 on average
    • Number of programs offered: 95 undergraduate 
    • City location: Gainesville, FL
    • Admission requirements: SAT Critical Reading 640-710 / SAT Math 640-730 / ACT 27-32
    • Contact: (352) 392-3261       
    • Website      
  5. Oklahoma State University
    Location

    Stillwater, OK

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    More than 35,000 students attend Oklahoma State University. It is a public land-grant university based in the mid-sized city of Stillwater. OSU offers over 300 undergraduate programs and 200 graduate programs. The school has a total of five campus locations and is available online. Established in 1890, OSU has evolved into the state's most prominent STEM-focused institution. The school is also recognized for its veterinary medicine and engineering programs. OSU offers affordable online bachelor's degrees in business, pre-law, nursing, and engineering. Most of OSU's 30 online master's degrees eliminate all on-campus requirements. OSU is one of six sun-grant universities in the nation. This means that OSU develops and supports bioenergy research and environmentally sustainable initiatives. Oklahoma State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

    • Graduation rate: 61%
    • School status (public/private): Public
    • Annual tuition cost: $14,878 on average
    • Number of programs offered: 87 undergraduate 
    • City location: Stillwater, OK
    • Admission requirements: SAT Critical Reading 540-640 / SAT Math 520-640 / ACT 22-28
    • Contact: (405) 744-5000        
    • Website     
  6. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    Location

    Chapel Hill, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the oldest public university in the country. It offers a strong, affordable education to over 19,000 students annually. The school is known as a "Public Ivy." This refers to when a public institution offers an Ivy League academic experience. UNC maintains a commitment to accessibility and affordability. It does this through several programs, including financial aid packages. UNC offers 97 bachelor's, 103 master's, and 72 doctoral degrees. Distance learning offerings include eight certificate programs, nine master's, and two doctoral degrees. Instructors deliver coursework entirely online or hybrid formats. This institution reports a 24% acceptance rate and an average SAT score of 1350. Carolina is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

    • Graduation rate: 91%
    • School status (public/private): Public
    • Annual tuition cost: $13,918 on average
    • Number of programs offered: 114 undergraduate 
    • City location: Chapel Hill, NC
    • Admission requirements: SAT Critical Reading 630-720 / SAT Math 640-760 / ACT 29-33
    • Contact: 919-962-2211      
    • Website
  7. California State University-Long Beach
    Location

    Long Beach, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    California State University, Long Beach enrolls over 37,000 undergraduate and graduate students. It offers courses at its main campus in Southern California and online. CSULB boasts affordable tuition rates and high earning potential for its graduates. CSULB is a selective university, admitting 28% of applicants. Students interested in distance learning may enroll in courses and programs through CalStateOnline. This is the state system's centralized portal for distance learning. The CalStateOnine system offers 74 bachelor's, 146 master's, and 7 doctoral degrees. Students can complete these programs in fully online and hybrid formats. CSULB is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

    • Graduation rate: 78%
    • School status (public/private): Public
    • Annual tuition cost: $8,982 on average
    • Number of programs offered: 82 undergraduate 
    • City location: Long Beach, CA
    • Admission requirements: SAT Critical Reading 520-620 / SAT Math 520-630 / ACT 20-26
    • Contact: 562.985.4111        
    • Website        
  8. California State University-Los Angeles
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Cal State LA serves over 26,000 students through 300 programs and eight schools. The school is the second-oldest member of the California State University System. It is also a Hispanic-Serving Institution. Popular undergraduate majors include criminal justice, child development, and psychology. The college's most popular graduate fields are counseling, social work, and education. Cal State LA maintains a commitment to accessible and reasonably priced education. More than half of all undergraduates qualify for tuition waivers. About 84% of undergraduates receive some form of financial aid. CalState Online offers affordable online degrees for many types of students. Career changers, career advancers, and military students should consider attending. Cal State LA is regionally accredited by the WASC.

    • Graduation rate: 65%
    • School status (public/private): Public
    • Annual tuition cost: $4,175 on average
    • Number of programs offered: 73 undergraduate 
    • City location: Los Angeles, CA
    • Admission requirements: SAT Critical Reading 450-540 / SAT Math 440-540 / ACT 15-20
    • Contact: (323) 343-3000        
    • Website      
  9. Indiana University-Bloomington
    Location

    Bloomington, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Indiana University Bloomington is Hoosier State's flagship school. IU was established in 1820. The school now serves 48,000 students in more than 550 programs. This includes over 200 undergraduate majors on campus and online. Since 2002, IU has offered online bachelor's degrees designed for working professionals. IU's Office of Online Education provides an array of resources for distance learners. These include orientations, success coaches, and technological support. Distance learners also qualify for transfer credits toward their degree. They can use life and work experience or military training. As one of the most affordable schools in the state, IU works with students to manage costs. About 64% of undergraduates receive grants or scholarships. IU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

    • Graduation rate: 78%
    • School status (public/private): Public
    • Annual tuition cost: $13,428 on average
    • Number of programs offered: 87 undergraduate 
    • City location: Bloomington, IN
    • Admission requirements: SAT Critical Reading 580-670 / SAT Math 570-690 / ACT 24-31        
    • Contact: 812-855-4848        
    • Website 
  10. University of Illinois at Chicago
    Location

    Chicago, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of Illinois at Chicago is the city's only public research university. It was created in 1982 through the merger of two different schools. UIC operates 16 separate academic colleges. It also has a well-regarded hospital system and a medical school. UIC offers 86 undergraduate degrees in the liberal arts, life sciences, and the arts. It also offers degrees in education, engineering, and public health. Students can earn graduate degrees in 111 master's and 66 doctoral programs. UIC offers 15 fully online undergraduate programs in business administration, English, and mathematics. Besides online degrees, students may pursue a "stackable" online certificate. Stackable programs allow students to earn credits that they may reuse. They can use these to fulfill academic credits for a bachelor's or advanced degree. UIC is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.  

    • Graduation rate: 67%
    • School status (public/private): Public
    • Annual tuition cost: $13,301 on average
    • Number of programs offered: 69 undergraduate 
    • City location: Chicago, IL 
    • Admission requirements: SAT Critical Reading 510-610 / SAT Math 510-610 / ACT 21-27
    • Contact: (312) 996-7000        
    • Website      

  • Methodology: Here's How We Rank Schools


    At Best Value Schools, we help students of all ages get the best possible value for their education. When choosing the best schools and programs, we prioritize tuition rates, student debt, financial aid opportunities, graduation rates, and the availability of online programs.
    We source unbiased data from government and educational databases like the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 6,374 schools across the U.S. We organize that data into five weighted categories to compile our school rankings.































    Metric Data Used Percentage
    Academic Quality Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates 25%
    Affordability Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid 35%
    Reputation Admission and enrollment rates 15%
    Program Offerings Number of program options 10%
    Online Enrollment Score Portion of learners taking at least one online course 15%

    You can read more about our comprehensive evaluation process on our methodology page.

Have Questions About Affordable Universities? We Have Answers.

  • How many college students get financial aid?

    More than half of college students received some type of financial aid during the 2017-2018 academic year.

  • Where can I go to find financial aid?

    Filling out the FAFSA is a good place to start your search for financial aid. Most scholarships and grants rely on your FAFSA information to determine how much aid you are eligible to receive.

  • When can I apply for financial aid at my university?

    FAFSA forms are available each year starting October 1. However, schools and scholarship programs maintain their own deadlines.

  • Do I really need to apply for financial aid every year?

    Yes. You must file the FAFSA every year. Private scholarship programs follow their own regulations regarding renewals; however, many require an annual filing for financial aid packages.

  • What is the income limit for the FAFSA in 2020?

    There is actually no official income cut-off to qualify for federal student aid, according to studentaid.gov. The federal government looks at many different factors, like the size of family and school year.

  • Is college financial aid free?

    Some college financial aid does not have to be paid back, but some financial aid, like loans, will have to be paid back. You can check into grants and scholarships if you are looking for money that generally does not need to be repaid.

Degree Overview 

When most people refer to college degrees, they’re talking about bachelor’s degrees, which are degrees you earn in about four to five years after graduating from high school or obtaining your GED. That said, there are many other types of degrees you can pursue. Many cheap colleges offer either four-year bachelor’s degrees or two-year associate’s degrees, though it depends on the college. At the graduate level, students can opt to obtain master’s degrees or terminal doctoral degrees, which are higher-level degrees that help students specialize even further in their field.

The main benefit of earning a college degree is that it allows you to focus your career toward certain fields that interest you and helps you stand out against the competition when looking for jobs. College programs typically aren’t just focused on your area of major, though — at least not  at the undergraduate level. Bachelor’s programs and associate’s programs will have general education requirements you have to meet, like composition and math, along with major courses that teach you the core topics of what you are going to school to learn.  

Degree Requirements 

If you’re looking for the degree requirements for cheap universities, it’s important to understand that the requirements for both admission and graduation will vary based on the school and program you choose. If you are thinking of attending a certain university, make sure to review their admission requirements carefully. 

That said, there are some common requirements you’ll likely need to meet to enroll in any program. For example, there will likely be minimum high school GPA requirements and SAT or ACT testing requirements for incoming students, though some campuses or programs with open admission — or some community colleges — may have looser requirements.  

To enroll in a school or program, you will often have to submit high school transcripts, extracurricular activities, standardized testing scores, and in some cases, an admissions essay. College admission staff often take into account the whole profile of each student when making an admission decision.    

When it comes to specific degree requirements, college degrees will typically list how many course hours students must complete, and may also outline what classes are required to graduate. Most associate’ degree will require you to complete about 60 credit hours to earn your degree. Bachelor’s degrees typically require 120 credit hours to graduate. Master’s degrees can require anywhere from 30 to 40 credit hours to graduate, and doctoral degree requirements can vary from 60 to 120 credit hours depending on the field.  

You can generally earn all types of degrees remotely, which is a huge perk for those who are trying to further their education while still working or attending to other responsibilities. The cheapest colleges online typically offer a wide range of degree options and majors as well. 

The Average Cost of College Tuition

Public colleges and universities in the United States receive state funding from taxes paid by residents, making them some of the cheapest universities in the USA. Public universities prioritize in-state students who are part of that tax-paying public. As such, out-of-state students generally pay much higher tuition.

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that in-state students paid an average of $9,212 in tuition and fees for the 2018-2019 academic year. Meanwhile, out-of-state students paid an average of $26,382.

Each state maintains its own criteria for determining a student’s residency status. Proof of residency may include a record of tax payments, full-time employment within the state, or an occupational or state license. Some states also participate in reciprocity agreements that allow each member’s students to enroll as in-state learners.

Research the in-state residency requirements at your chosen school. In-state tuition can make your college degree much more affordable.

Common Core Courses 

The courses you are required to take will depend on your major, but in general, nearly all college students are required to take core courses to graduate. These classes typically include:

College algebra
Nearly all degrees require you to take college algebra as part of your core curriculum. In this course, you will learn about concepts like polynomials, inequalities, functions, and other algebra-related concepts. You’ll also gain a deeper insight into the core algebra concepts that you will build upon in higher-level math courses.
Composition
You will use written communication on a regular basis after graduation, which is why college composition is one of the core courses you’re required to take in college. In this course, you will learn to refine your writing and further your ability to develop and articulate your ideas. This course typically requires several essays, which will require you to go through the process of drafting, revising, editing, and proofreading your work.
Foreign language
You will also typically be required to take and pass at least one foreign language class. Most programs allow you to choose your own language class to take, but common options include Spanish, French, Chinese, and American Sign Language, among others.

Career and Salary Outlook for College Graduates

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professionals with a bachelor’s degree earn almost 30% higher salaries than professionals with a two-year associate degree. Professionals with a bachelor’s degree in 2020 also saw a lower unemployment rate (5.5%) than professionals with an associate degree (7.1%), some college but no degree (8.3%), and a high school diploma (9.0%).

In addition to education, the state where you work can impact your salary, according to the BLS. Bachelor’s graduates in Washington, D.C. earn approximately 17% more than their counterparts in Virginia. Experience level also impacts salaries. For example, architects at the beginning of their careers earn significantly lower salaries ($49,000) than those with 20 years of experience ($90,000), according to PayScale.

Financial Aid for Students

The FAFSA plays an important role in your search for financial aid. It provides government agencies, colleges and universities, and private nonprofits with information that may qualify you for a scholarship or grant program.

Most colleges and universities maintain scholarship programs for different types of students, including athletes and high-achieving learners. Many schools also administer private scholarships for students from specific ethnic groups or socioeconomic backgrounds.

If you still need to take out a loan, consider a direct subsidized loan from the government first. Undergraduate students with demonstrable financial need usually qualify for this type of loan, which maintains a lower interest rate than other loans.

You can also take out a direct unsubsidized loan that does not require financial need as a qualification. The government pays for the interest of your direct subsidized loan during specified times. However, this is not the case for direct unsubsidized loans.

Scholarships for College Students

An affordable college education is still a strong investment. Every year, students can apply for more than $120 billion in federal grants and scholarships that they do not have to pay back.

Special-interest groups and nonprofit agencies offer millions more. Scholarship and grant programs target African Americanswomenfirst-generation students, and several other different types of learners.

Explore the five scholarships below to get an idea of the variety of financial assistance options available to you.

Scholarships for College Students

An affordable college education is still a strong investment. Every year, students can apply for more than $120 billion in federal grants and scholarships that they do not have to pay back.

Special-interest groups and nonprofit agencies offer millions more. Scholarship and grant programs target African Americans, women, first-generation students, and several other different types of learners.

Explore the five scholarships below to get an idea of the variety of financial assistance options available to you.

ABA Diversity Scholarship  

Who Can Apply: Administered by the American Bus Association, this scholarship accepts applications from students pursuing a degree in transportation, travel, or tourism. Applicants must submit a 500-word essay about their career goals.

Amount: $5,000
Deadline: Varies

AG Bell College Scholarship  

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be full-time students with diagnosed bilateral moderate to profound hearing loss. Applicants must also be enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program at an accredited college or university. They must use listening and spoken language as primary communication mode.

Amount: $5,000
Deadline: Varies

American Society of Interior Designers Scholarships

Who Can Apply: The ASID accepts applications from undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a degree in design, fine arts, or a related field. Applicants must submit an abstract of their work and a personal essay.

Amount: $4,000-$12,000
Deadline: Varies

Great Minds in Stem Scholarships

Who Can Apply: This program welcomes applications from Hispanic students enrolled in an accredited two-year or four-year institution pursuing a degree in a STEM or health/medical field. Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Amount: $500-$5,000
Deadline: Varies 

IAEE Helen Brett Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This scholarship accepts applications from college students enrolled in an accredited program with a focus on events and exhibitions. Applicants must have a 3.0 minimum GPA.

Amount: $5,000
Deadline: June 1

The Top 10 Most Affordable Universities in America for 2021

Rank School Location
1 University of Washington Seattle, WA
2 CUNY Brooklyn College Brooklyn, NY
3 Purdue University West Lafayette, IN
4 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
5 Oklahoma State University Stillwater, OK
6 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC
7 California State University-Long Beach Long Beach, CA
8 California State University-Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA
9 Indiana University-Bloomington Bloomington, IN
10 University of Illinois at Chicago Chicago, IL
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Michelle Honeyager

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Michelle Lovrine Honeyager is a freelance writer living in Southeast Wisconsin who covers education topics for Best Value Schools, Grad School Hub, and Criminal Justice Degree Schools, among others.

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Angelica Leicht

SCHOOLS EDITOR

Angelica Leicht is the schools editor at Best Value Schools who oversees our college rankings, school profiles, and other higher education coverage. She previously served as an education reporter at Kearney Hub, and an editor at the Dallas Observer and Houston Press. Her writing has appeared in Affordable Colleges Online, Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, and elsewhere.

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