Costs at some colleges near $100,000 a year; many families pay a lot less

The price of college has never been higher – and it’s only going up.

The cost of tuition at some schools, including New York University, Tufts, Brown, Yale and Washington University in St. Louis, now approaches six figures per year, after factoring in tuition , fees, room and board, books, transportation and other expenses.

Among the schools on the Princeton Review’s “Best 389 Colleges” list list that have already set their costs for the 2024-25 academic year, eight institutions so far have a sticker price of more than $90,000 per year, according to data provided to CNBC.

Considering that tuition adjustments average about 4% per year, these institutions – and others – could cross the $100,000 threshold as early as 2026, according to an estimate by Bryan Alexander, a senior fellow at the Georgetown University.

However, this is not what many families pay.

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“To remove a school from the consideration list based on sticker price alone is wrong,” said Robert Franek, editor-in-chief of The Princeton Review.

He said about two-thirds of all full-time students receive aid, which can significantly reduce costs.

Net price: Your net price is tuition and fees minus any grants, scholarships and education tax benefits, according to the College Board.

The Princeton Review even ranked colleges based on the amount of financial aid awarded and how satisfied students were with their packages. These are the colleges that came out on top.

At Washington University in St. Louis, for example, the average scholarship amount is just over $65,000 per year, according to The Princeton Review, bringing the total cost closer to $26,000 .

In fact, when it comes to offering aid, private schools generally have more money to spend, Franek said.

“If you take into account the average grant, these schools become some of the most affordable in the country,” he said.

What college really costs

The amount families actually spent on education costs during the 2022-23 academic year was, on average, $28,026, according to Sallie Mae’s annual report, How America Pays for College.

While parents’ income and savings cover nearly half of college costs, free money from scholarships and grants accounts for more than a quarter of the costs, and student loans account for most of the rest, found the education lender.

The U.S. Department of Education awards approximately $120 billion each year to help students finance their higher education. And beyond federal aid, students may also be eligible for financial aid from their state or university.

But students must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which serves as a gateway to all federal funds, including loans, work-study and grants.

FAFSA Rollout Bugs and Errors: Here's What You Need to Know

This year, problems with the new FAFSA discouraged many students and their families from completing an application.

At last count, 6.6 million FAFSA forms have been submitted. That’s just a fraction of the approximately 17 million students who use the FAFSA form in typical years. And under the new aid formula, 2.1 million more students are expected to be eligible for the maximum Pell Grant, according to the Department of Education.

“You cannot ignore the value of the FAFSA form, even in these difficult times,” Franek said. “This is the key to unlocking the majority of financial aid dollars.”

Already, high school graduates are missing out on billions in federal grants because they don’t fill out the FAFSA form, experts say.

In total, the high school class of 2022 left about $3.6 billion in unclaimed Pell Grants on the table, according to a report from the National College Attainment Network.

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