Cost of University in the USA vs. UK - United Sports USA
Cost of University in the USA vs. UK

You are from the UK and dream of studying in America, but you heard that the costs of university in the United States are sky high. Are the costs of American universities really that high, and how do the costs compare to the costs of studying in the UK?

When comparing the cost of university in the USA vs UK, there are 3 main things which need to be taken into consideration:

  1. Tuition costs
  2. Cost of living
  3. Scholarship options


Costs of Studying in America

1. Tuition Costs in the USA

Every year, HSBC puts out a report on the costs of higher education in different countries. The United States came in 3rd in terms of costs, with an average yearly cost of $36,564 (£23,650) Multiply this by 4 years and the number can be daunting!

But before you freak out at the sight of those high numbers, bear in mind that these are averages for ALL types of American colleges and universities. When you look at the types of institutions separately, you can get much lower or higher figures.

First you must know that there are 3 main types of high learning institutions in the United States:

  • Private Universities: These are educational institutions which operate as nonprofits (though there are some for-profit universities too). Their operating costs come from tuition as well as other sources like donations and sports teams. They do not receive any funding from the state. Private universities usually have more prestige, lower class sizes, and are smaller. Some of the top universities in America are private nonprofits, including MIT, Harvard, and Stanford.
  • Public Universities: Public universities receive some funding from the state, which means that tuition is lower. Public universities are usually much larger and have larger class sizes.
  • Community Colleges: These are 2-year institutions in the public sector. They are also known as city colleges and technical colleges. You get an associate’s degree when you finish community college. Because community colleges are so much cheaper than public and private universities, many Americans first go to community college and then transfer the credits they earned there to a public or private university where they finish their bachelor’s degree.

Average Annual Tuition Costs in USA (2014/15 figures)

  • Private Universities: $32,231 (£20,847)
  • Public Universities: $9,139 (£5,911) for state residents and $22,958 (£14,849) for out-of-state residents
  • Community Colleges: $3,347 (£2,164)


2. Cost of Living in the USA

Bear in mind that the United States is a very large country (40x larger than the UK!). The cost of living will vary drastically for students depending on where in the USA they study. Obviously, studying in big cities like New York or Los Angeles is going to cost a lot more than studying somewhere in the Midwest like Ohio or Wisconsin.

The website Infozee puts the estimate at about $700 to $1000 (£450-650) per month for rent, utilities, food, and other living expenses. Another website, Studying in the US, puts the estimate at about $1500 (£970).

One unique thing about universities in the United States is that scholarships often extend to housing. Some scholarships will even cover the costs of food (such as at a campus cantina) and books.


3. Scholarship Opportunities

When looking at the average costs of university in the United States, bear in mind that this is an average of the costs, and not an average of what students actually pay. This is because a vast majority of undergraduate students have some sort of scholarship or financial assistance. According to the NCES, 85% of undergraduate students at 4-year universities in the United States get some sort of financial aid.

American universities give out aid for many reasons. It can be because the student is from a low-income family, because of academic excellence, because of a disability, through a sports scholarship

While scholarships are common in the United States, don’t count on a full-ride scholarship. The average amount of scholarship money given was:

  • Across All Institutions: $10,320 (£6,617)
  • Public Universities: $6,560 (£4,243)
  • Private Non-Profit Universities: $17,900 (£11,578)

Remember that it is up to you to get a scholarship. Some universities may offer you a scholarship on acceptance, but you will receive much more if you actively seek out scholarships based on your merit. If you are an athlete, learn about how to get a sports scholarship in America here.


Costs of Studying in the UK

1. Tuition Costs in the UK

Figuring out the tuition costs in the UK is rather simple.   Institutions in the England and Wales can charge a maximum of £9,000 ($13,914) for home students. In Northern Ireland, the max is £3,575 ($5,526) for home students. In Scotland, the max is £9,000. However, if you are from Scotland, then your tuition will be virtually free. Also, if you are from Wales, then the max you have to pay in the UK is £3,810 ($5,890), and the rest is covered by the Welsh government.

More than half of the universities in the UK ask for the maximum amount. Fewer universities ask for £6,000 ($9,276) annually.


2. Cost of Living

Just like in the USA, the cost of living for students can vary drastically depending on where the university is located. For students who reside with family members, then the cost of living is even lower.

Figures from the UK National Union of Students give an average cost of living outside of London as about £12,000 ($18,550) annually. Students in London pay an average of about £13,500 ($20,900) annually.


3. Scholarship Opportunities

Compared to the United States, the UK offers very few scholarship opportunities to students. As of 2016, even the maintenance grant for low-income students is to be scraped and replaced with loans. There are still some scholarships available to outstanding students, but your chances of getting one are rather slim. Count on paying the full tuition cost if you are going to study in the UK.


How Do the Total Costs Compare?

US – Public University

Tuition: $22,000
Living Expenses: $12,000
Minus scholarship: $6,000
= $28,000 (£18,000)

US – Private University

Tuition: $32,000
Living Expenses: $12,000
Minus Scholarship: $18,000
= $26,000 (£16,800)


Tuition: £9,000
Living Expenses: £12,000
Scholarship: None
=£21,000 yearly ($32,000)

As you can see, with average scholarship amounts factored in, the yearly cost of studying in the United States is actually cheaper than the UK. But remember, even if you are academically or athletically gifted, a scholarship isn’t just going to land in your lap. It is up to you to actively seek out scholarships for studying abroad if you want to get the most assistance possible. With the right approach, you might even be able to land yourself a full or almost-full ride scholarship.