Students choosing a college would be wise to weigh the price tag of a degree against the earning potential that degree unlocks; otherwise, the school they choose could keep their net worth in the red for years to come. The high-priced institutions on this list earned their place based on the total of their 2013-14 tuition, room and board and fees. Sticker shock shouldn’t eliminate any of them from a student’s short list, however. They all offer financial aid packages that can make the net price more realistic.
5 Sarah Lawrence College
Another New York institution, Sarah Lawrence College, rounds out the top five most expensive U.S. colleges with an annual price tag of $60,656. SLC’s financial aid package—highest among our list schools at more than $36,000—can slice the cost of a year’s attendance in half. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and fashion designer Vera Wang graduated from this liberal arts college located near Manhattan.
4 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Coming in as the fourth most expensive U.S. college, with an annual cost of $60,779, is Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of Troy, New York. Rensselaer, which claims the title as the country’s oldest technological research school, includes digital camera inventor Steven J. Sasson and lunar astronaut John L. Swigert Jr. among its alumni. Financial aid scholarships in the $24,000 range help stretch student wallets.
3 Bard College
Bard College, a private, four-year institution whose main campus sits along the Hudson River in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, costs $61,466 to attend, based on tuition, room, board and fees. The school reports it awards need-based scholarships that average $27,458, nearly half of the annual tuition cost. Hollywood greats Robert Redford, Chevy Chase and Mia Farrow attended Bard.
2 Harvey Mudd College
Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California holds second place as the U.S. school for which students write the biggest checks: $61,760. This undergrad-only college specializes in mathematics, science and engineering and cites studies by PayScale and Bloomberg Businessweek that indicate its graduates average a $1.7 million return on their investment in an HMC education. Astronauts George “Pinky” Nelson and Stan Love and Flash software inventor Jonathan Gay are among its alumni.
1 New York University
New York University’s room and board cost—$16,622 for the 2013-14 academic year—catapults it into first place as the most expensive U.S. college. NYU tuition ranks second-lowest among Business Insider’s top 20 highest-priced schools. A year as a full-time student will set you back $61,977 before buying books or shampoo. Freshmen don’t seem to mind: 92 percent of freshmen stay beyond their first year.