Getting a college degree is a good way to invest in yourself.
According to a study from Northeastern University, the average graduate with a bachelor’s degree earns roughly $26,000 more per year than someone who entered the workforce immediately after graduating high school.
The problem is that paying for college can be hard. Education is very expensive (and the cost is only increasing), and many people have to turn to high-interest college loans to cover tuition and other fees.
Choosing a cheap college can help you save money while still earning a valuable degree. In this guide, we'll walk you through this list of the top ten most affordable colleges.
1. Granite State College
- Ranking: 131-171 in Regional Universities, North
- Cost of attendance: $14,709–$22,761
- Number of students: 1,729
Granite State College, located in Concord, New Hampshire, was founded in 1972 with one goal: that students, regardless of where they live, their age, or income, should have access to a college education.
The school started by offering evening and weekend classes, and it now lets students choose an online program in addition to its flexible in-person offerings.
Both in-person and online students can choose from a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs as well as certificate programs. The school offers degrees in business, health and wellness, nursing, human services, project management, and more.
With a cost of attendance as low as $14,709 per year, Granite State is a highly affordable college. Many students should be able to afford tuition and fees solely through aid and scholarships.
Granite State aims to provide financial aid to eligible students equal to the cost of tuition, fees, and books for two classes per term. This means eligible students only need to find a way to fund half of their classes each term.
The school also participates in federal and state aid programs and offers options like work-study to help students cover their costs. You can qualify whether you’re pursuing an in-person or online college degree.
You may also qualify for tuition waivers based on your demographics or course of study.
2. University of North Carolina, Pembroke
- Ranking: 65 in Regional Universities South
- Cost of attendance: $15,499–$19,499
- Number of students: 6,436
The University of North Carolina, Pembroke (UNCP) is a school located in Pembroke, North Carolina.
Since 1897, the school has offered bachelor’s and master’s degrees with a focus on small class sizes and a low student-to-faculty ratio.
The school advertises that it has one faculty member for every 18 students enrolled.
UNCP has dozens of degree programs to choose from, so students are likely to find a subject they’re interested in studying. Popular majors include accounting, American Indian studies, physics, art history, business, chemistry, computer science, geology, and more.
Outside of classes, students can enjoy campus activities such as intramural sports or bowling at the student center. They can also get involved with the local community.
The school is quite affordable, with in-state students paying an average undergraduate tuition amount of $15,499 per year. Of that amount, only $3,490 goes toward annual tuition and fees, with room and board running nearly $9,400. This means that students who can find cheap accommodations, such as living with a relative, will pay relatively little to attend school at UNCP.
On top of its already affordable cost, UNCP offers generous financial aid, with 72% of UNCP students receiving some form of aid or need-based assistance.
3. Delta State University
- Ranking: 74 in Regional Universities South
- Cost of attendance: $12,234
- Number of students: 2,331
Located in Cleveland, Missouri, Delta State University is a public college that has been educating students for almost 100 years.
Delta State began as a teacher college, helping turn young people into educators, and it continues that tradition by offering an excellent education program.
Students can also choose from 40 majors, including programs in the arts, science, humanities, social science, or other topics like commercial aviation. Students can also join one of the school’s many student organizations or get involved in one of its 15 NCAA sports programs as participants or spectators.
Delta State also advertises its small class size, with a student-to-teacher ratio of 11:1.
Delta State’s financial aid office can help students find a way to cover the cost of their college education. The school’s cost of attendance is already quite reasonable, so many students should be able to keep costs low with a combination of scholarships and grants.
The university maintains a list of scholarship opportunities and also offers student employment to help lower the cost of tuition.
4. Glenville State College
- Ranking: 43 in Regional Colleges South
- Cost of attendance: $9,994–$10,808
- Number of students: 1,583
Glenville State College is a public university located in Glenville, West Virginia. The college is often called the Lighthouse on the Hill, which is referenced in the school’s logo.
Glenville State College was founded in 1872 as a teacher’s college. It educated future teachers for the state but has since grown to offer degrees in subjects including business, music, liberal arts, science, criminal justice, and human services. The school aims for small class sizes, with a student-to-teacher ratio of 15:1.
The school is inexpensive for both in-state and out-of-state students, with out-of-state students paying just $814 more than in-state students for tuition fees each year. With a total cost of attendance of just under $10,000 for in-state students, many people will find the cost of a Glenville State education to be quite affordable.
On top of its already low cost, Glenville State College offers multiple financial aid programs, including grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study.
The school gives an average of $2,132 in aid to its students, meaning most pay about $8,000 out of pocket each year, an amount that many can cover through scholarships and other forms of aid.
5. Oklahoma Panhandle State University
- Ranking: 24 in Regional Universities West
- Cost of attendance: $13,848–$14,848
- Number of students: 1,337
Oklahoma Panhandle State University is an undergraduate university located in Goodwell, Oklahoma.
The school has four focuses: student learning, resource optimization, a comprehensive student experience through and beyond graduation, and life-long learning for its community.
Students at OPSU can choose from degree programs in three colleges: the College of Agriculture, Science, and Nursing, the College of Arts and Education, and the College of Business and Technology. The school also offers online programs for students who do not want to attend in-person classes.
Outside of class, students can get involved in OPSU’s sports program, which includes sports like basketball, soccer, baseball, and football. The school also has a shooting sports complex where students can practice rifle and pistol shooting, as well as archery.
OPSU’s financial aid office aims to make a college education affordable to its students by offering a variety of aid programs. This includes access to both federal and state aid programs and Indian Tribal grants, as well as information on public and private student loan options. There are also on-campus job opportunities for students who want to participate in a work-study program.
6. University of Washington
- Ranking: 59 in National Universities
- Cost of attendance: $20,710–$62,856
- Number of students: 35,582
The University of Washington is one of the top public universities in the country.
Located in Seattle, Washington, UW boasts a large student body and a strong academic program that has helped it earn top rankings from multiple publications, including U.S. News.
UW is composed of more than a dozen schools, each with different focuses. Students can choose from programs offered by the School of Public Health, School of Social Work, School of Nursing, School of Law, the Information School, and more.
The school’s annual cost of attendance is relatively low for in-state students at $20,170 per year. Out-of-state and international students will have to pay a lot more, with a cost of attendance over $60,000.
For in-state prospective students interested in UW, there are many ways to lower the cost of your education. UW offers multiple scholarship and loan programs, and its financial aid office can guide students through the options available to them.
Through its Husky Promise program, UW works to make sure that Washington residents aren’t blocked from accessing higher education due to cost.
Eligible students receive scholarships and grants equal to the full cost of tuition and fees, with a guarantee that their aid will increase in line with tuition increases.
7. California State University, Long Beach
- Ranking: 12 in Regional Universities West
- Cost of attendance: $20,294–$30,590
- Number of students: 33,919
California State University, Long Beach is a public university located in Long Beach, California. Founded in 1949 as Los Angeles-Orange County State College, the school has grown to be home to more than 33,000 students.
CSU Long Beach’s campus includes more than 300 acres of land that is home to the school’s academic buildings, an art museum, gardens, and more. Students will find plenty to enjoy both on campus and in the city surrounding it.
Students at CSU Long Beach can choose from eight colleges, including the College of the Arts, College of Business Administration, College of Education, and College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. Each college offers multiple degree programs, so students shouldn’t have any trouble finding a program that interests them.
Outside of class, students can relax at the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, which is a 126,500 square-foot building that includes intramural sports facilities and other activities for students. There are dozens of clubs and sports that students can get involved in.
CSU Long Beach’s yearly cost of attendance is slightly high at $20,294 for in-state students, but the school has programs to help make its education affordable. 71% of students receive some form of financial aid, and the school is ranked 11th nationally for students graduating with the least amount of debt.
8. Texas Tech University
- Ranking: 213 in National Universities
- Cost of attendance: $27,782–$40,052
- Number of students: 33,269
Texas Tech University is a highly-rated school located in Lubbock, Texas.
It is one of the 131 universities and colleges in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education’s “Very High Research Activity” list — one of fewer than 100 public schools in that list.
This makes it a fantastic school for students who hope to get involved with cutting-edge research.
The school was founded in 1923 as a technical school but has expanded to include a law program and medical school. Today, it offers more than 150 undergraduate degree programs, 100 graduate programs, and 50 doctoral degrees.
Outside of their classes, students can join one of the university's more than 450 student organizations.
Texas Tech also has a robust study abroad program. Nearly 1,400 students studied abroad during the 2018–2019 academic year, making the school a good option for those who want to get international experience.
For students who enjoy sports, Texas Tech is a member of the Big 12 conference and offers 17 varsity sports programs to participate in as either a player or spectator.
Texas Tech University’s cost of attendance is higher than many other schools on this list at $27,782 per year for in-state students. However, the school’s Red Raider guarantee can make attending more affordable.
Texas students whose families have an adjusted gross income of $65,000 or less and who have demonstrated financial need will receive sufficient aid to cover all tuition and fees. First-year and transfer students with associate degrees are eligible for this program.
9. Florida State University
- Ranking: 55 in National Universities
- Cost of attendance: $23,486
- Number of students: 32,543
Founded in 1851, Florida State University is the oldest continuously operating institute of higher education in the state. The school is one of the top research universities in the United States.
It also has a strong graduation rate of 84% and the 16th-best student retention rate among public universities at 93%.
The students at FSU are high achievers, with an average GPA of 4.0–4.4 and average SAT scores ranging between 1230–1350.
Students at FSU will get to experience the city of Tallahassee, Florida, as well as the campus’s many amenities.
This includes 25 dining facilities on the campus and an Innovation Hub where students can take advantage of high-tech equipment and 3D printers to build or program whatever they want. It also includes a student center that features bowling, a pool, and a music and comedy club, in addition to a sports complex where students can work out.
In terms of academics, Florida State has more than a dozen colleges offering a variety of degree programs. Students can choose from the College of Applied Studies, College of Business, College of Education, College of Law, College of Motion Picture Arts, and more.
FSU also has multiple graduate programs for students who wish to continue their studies after finishing an undergraduate degree.
FSU’s financial aid office has an in-depth website that helps students understand every component of the school’s cost of attendance. It also has resources on the aid that students can receive.
The school awards more than $350 million in aid each year, averaging almost $11,000 in aid to each first-year student.
10. Iowa State University
- Ranking: 122 in National Universities
- Cost of attendance: $22,152–$41,760
- Number of students: 26,846
Iowa State University is a public land grant university located in Ames, Iowa. The school was founded in 1858 and accepted its first students in 1869.
Today, it has grown to have nearly 27,000 undergraduate students enrolled. There are also roughly 3,000 graduate students at the school.
Iowa State’s mission is to “create, share, and apply knowledge to make Iowa and the world a better place.”
Students can gain that knowledge from one of the school’s many colleges, such as the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Design, College of Engineering, or College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
In all, students can choose from one hundred different degree programs.
Outside their classes, students can join one of the school’s many academic and extracurricular student organizations, such as the canoe and kayak club, the birding club, the automotive enthusiast club, or the gaming and esports club.
For athletically inclined students, Iowa State University is a member of the Big 12 conference and offers multiple varsity programs that participants and spectators can enjoy.
The state tuition rate at the school is relatively affordable at $22,152 per year.
To help students make the most of their money, Iowa State has an Office of Student Financial Success. This office focuses on helping students manage their money so that they can cover their college costs and set themselves up for a stable financial future.
More than half of students receive need-based aid, and the average aid awarded is more than $9,600 per year.
How to Pay for College
There’s no hiding the fact that college is expensive. Even the cheapest schools on this list expect you to pay $40,000 or more to earn a four-year degree. The costs only rise if you attend a slightly more expensive school or want to go on to graduate school.
If you’re trying to figure out how you can pay for college, here are the forms of aid you should consider applying for.
One of the best ways to get money for college is through scholarships. Scholarships and grants give you money that you can use to pay for your college tuition and fees, and there’s usually no obligation to pay them back.
Many schools offer scholarships to applicants based on their academic performance and other factors. When you receive an acceptance letter from a school, you’ll usually get information about any financial aid you might receive, including scholarship offers.
These scholarships can be worth thousands of dollars, significantly reducing the cost of attending a school.
Outside organizations also offer scholarships, and many local businesses and community groups have scholarship programs. Even if the awards are relatively small, a few hundred or thousand dollars can add up.
Keep an eye out in your local community for scholarship opportunities, and you can earn a lot of money to put toward your education.
Federal and state aid
The federal government and most state governments offer multiple aid programs to help students afford higher learning.
The government wants to encourage its population to receive an education, which is one of the reasons that every state has a system of public universities that offer a discounted tuition cost to residents. In general, public schools are much cheaper than private colleges.
The federal government operates multiple aid programs, such as the Pell grant and Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant.
These programs give students financial aid based on their financial situation or career plans. You’ll be eligible for these programs based on the information you included in your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Many states have their own aid programs. For example, Massachusetts offers no-interest student loans, multiple grant programs, and scholarships that its residents can take advantage of.
If you can’t pay for the full cost of college with savings, scholarships, and grants, your next best bet is student loans. Unlike scholarships, you have to pay back student loans, so make sure you understand how much you are borrowing and how long it will take to pay it back.
The federal government has a loan program that offers student loans to eligible students. These loans can be either subsidized or unsubsidized.
With subsidized loans, interest won’t accrue until after you leave school, which saves you money. Unsubsidized loans start accruing interest right away.
Regardless of whether the loan is subsidized or unsubsidized, federal loans come with a lot of benefits over private loans, such as income-based repayment options and the opportunity to earn loan forgiveness.
You can also apply for private student loans. These loans come from banks and other private lenders. Unlike federal loans, these loans typically start accruing interest immediately and may require monthly payments while you’re still in school.
Private loans are also not eligible for the same programs that federal loans are, such as income-based repayment and forgiveness. Some private lenders offer deferment or forbearance options if you find yourself in difficult financial situations, but you’re typically better off with a federal loan.
In general, students should only apply for private student loans if their scholarship and grant aid plus federal loans are not sufficient to pay for the cost of college.
College can be expensive, but choosing the right school, especially a public in-state school, is a great way to make school affordable. Look for a cheap but highly-rated college, and take steps to find other ways to pay for your education, such as by earning scholarships.
And, if you do find yourself having built up some student debt, you can read our guide to paying it off here.