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If you’re a student considering college, you know that it’s a major investment. College tuition, fees, accommodation, books, supplies, and living costs quickly add up.

Furthermore, international students interested in attending public universities in the U.S. usually pay out-of-state tuition fees, unless there is a university agreement with their home country or local university.

Out-of-state tuition fees and international student fees can significantly increase the cost of attending a college and university in the U.S., but don’t despair!

We’ve compiled this guide on the cheapest states in the U.S. to help you find affordable options. We’ve also included some of the cheapest universities and colleges in these states along with tuition fees, academic programs, and school rankings.

Take a close look at this information and find the right options for you and your education goals.

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Cheapest States for College in the U.S.

In the United States, the average total cost of a 4-year bachelor’s degree from a public in-state college is $102,828. This increases to $176,056 for out-of-state colleges.

These are eye-watering costs, but it is possible to attain an excellent university degree at a much more affordable price by carefully choosing where to study.

Let’s take a look at the cheapest states in the U.S. for college tuition and examine their cost of living.

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1. New Mexico

Albuquerque New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico City View

Attending college in New Mexico could be a smart move for students looking for a cost-effective educational experience.

In-state tuition and fees average just $3,344, and out-of-state students can expect to pay $7,074 per semester.

Plus, rent and utilities are lower than the US average making it one of the best states to live in as a college student.

With 27 public universities and colleges in New Mexico, state universities have an enrollment of over 102,000 students.

New Mexico has a diverse economy, with science, technology, and the arts being particularly important industries. This means graduates have excellent prospects in the job market which is another major bonus of studying in this state.

Top Public Universities in New Mexico

University of New Mexico

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, Law, and Medicine
  • University Undergraduate In-State Tuition and Fees: $10,092
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $26,452
  • Rankings*: #212 in National Universities, #107 in Top Public Schools, #87 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs

New Mexico State University

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Veterinary Science
  • University Undergraduate In-State Tuition and Fees: $8,408
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $26,735
  • Rankings*: #263 in National Universities, #132 in Top Public Schools, #123 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs

New Mexico Tech

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Engineering and Science
  • University Undergraduate In-State Tuition and Fees: $9,058
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $26,312
  • Rankings*: #18 in Regional Universities West, #5 in Top Public Schools, #165 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs

*Source: U.S. News and World Report

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2. North Carolina

University of North Carolina
University of North Carolina

With 16 public universities and colleges, North Carolina is one of the best states to attend college.

Average in-state college tuition and fees in North Carolina are $3,520. Out-of-state tuition and fees are $11,218 on average per semester.

Not only is it relatively inexpensive to study in this state, but the cost of living is also low. State taxes are lower than in many other states, plus North Carolina has affordable housing, utilities, and daily expenses.

North Carolina is also a popular destination for international and out-of-state students looking for highly-ranked universities. For example, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hills is highly regarded as a top 5 public university in the U.S.

Given the relatively low cost of tuition and its high-ranking universities, North Carolina is an affordable place to get a top college degree.

Top Public Universities in North Carolina

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, Law, and Medicine
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $8,998
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $37,558
  • Rankings*: #29 in National Universities, #5 in Top Public Schools, #15 in Best Value Schools

North Carolina State University

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Veterinary Science
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $9,128
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $30,869
  • Rankings*: #72 in National Universities, #29 in Top Public Schools, #66 in Best Value Schools

University of North Carolina Wilmington

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Nursing
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $7,238
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $21,858
  • Rankings*: #202 in National Universities, #103 in Top Public Schools, #221 in Best Value Schools

*Source: U.S. News and World Report

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3. Wyoming

Wyoming State Capitol
Wyoming State Capitol located in the city of Cheyenne

Another great state for college students is Wyoming, where the average in-state tuition and fees are $4,394 and out-of-state fees $11,115.

Wyoming is also one of the most affordable places to live for college students. In fact, living costs in Wyoming are the lowest in the Rocky Mountain states, and there’s an added bonus – no state income tax!

Wyoming does not levy state income tax on residents, which means you have more money in your pocket if you plan to work and study at the same time.

Top Public Universities in Wyoming

University of Wyoming

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, Law, and Medicine
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $6,621
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $21,771
  • Rankings*: #202 in National Universities, #103 in Top Public Schools, #187 in Best Value Schools

Northwest College Wyoming

  • Academics: Associate’s Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Aviation, Nursing, and Equine Studies. Bachelor in Applied Sciences.
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $3,740
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $11,708

*Source: U.S. News and World Report





4. Nevada

Las Vegas Nevada
Las Vegas offers a growing job market for recent college graduates

Although Nevada’s in-state tuition and fees average $5,237, living costs can be expensive, depending on where you settle. However, keep in mind that Nevada is another tax-free state where you can save on taxes.

Out-of-state and international students should keep in mind that out-of-state tuition fees average $15,822 for Nevada public universities.

Las Vegas is a particularly costly city, but it has the benefit of a growing job market. Opportunities for part-time work and internships are high in Las Vegas given its vast hospitality industry, so it’s easy to earn and study while in college.

The large amount of job options in the hospitality and tourism industry makes Nevada one of the best states for international students.

Top Public Universities in Nevada

University of Nevada, Reno

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Medicine
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $8,798
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $25,340
  • Rankings*: #263 in National Universities, #132 in Top Public Schools, #137 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, Law, and Health Professions
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $10,215
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $26,220
  • Rankings*: #285 in National Universities, #146 in Top Public Schools, #150 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs

Nevada State College

  • Academics: Bachelor’s Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Nursing. Master’s in Speech-Langage Pathology
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $6,075
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $19,236
  • Rankings*: #35-46 in Regional Colleges West, #13 in Top Public Schools, #413 in Nursing

*Source: U.S. News and World Report

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5. Montana

Montana State Capitol in Helena
Montana State Capitol located in the city of Helena

Montana also has relatively low tuition fees – $5,320 in-state and $11,297 out-of-state tuition.

It’s an affordable place to study, but living costs aren’t as cheap as other states on this list, with housing being a particularly high expense in Montana. 

The state saw a surge in real estate demand during the Covid-19 pandemic, and property prices remain high now. This might not be a problem for students who plan to live in college dorms, but it’s definitely something to consider if you plan to remain in the state after graduating.

Of course, you could always pursue a career in real estate, which can be advantageous in this market.

Top Public Universities in Montana

Montana State University

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, Health, and Law
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $7,727
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $27,990
  • Rankings*: #263 in National Universities, #132 in Top Public Schools, #150 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs

University of Montana

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, Law, and Pharmacy
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $7,720
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $29,622
  • Rankings*: #285 in National Universities, #146 in Top Public Schools

University of Montana Western

  • Academics: Bachelor’s Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Health, and Equestrian Studies
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $5,876
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $17,608
  • Rankings*: #8 in Regional Colleges West, #3 in Top Public Schools, #8 in Best Value Schools

*Source: U.S. News and World Report

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6. Idaho

Boise Idaho - cheapest states for college students
Boise, Idaho

Idaho’s average tuition and fees are $5,684 in-state and $15,074 out-of-state. Living costs in Idaho are slightly below average, so students don’t have to worry about breaking the bank here.

Employment rates are excellent and the job market is expected to continue growing which is good news for anyone in search of an internship or an OPT job*.

*International students under an F-1 student visa are eligible for 1 to 2 years of optional practical training (OPT) after graduation. The OPT experience allows students to obtain a job in their academic field and gain valuable work experience in the U.S.

Top Public Universities in Idaho

University of Idaho

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, Health, and Law
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $8,396
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $27,632
  • Rankings*: #176 in National Universities, #87 in Top Public Schools, #26 in Best Value Schools

Lewis-Clark State College

  • Academics: Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, Health, and Pre-Law
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $6,996
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $20,252
  • Rankings*: #23 in Regional Colleges West, #10 in Top Public Schools, #7 in Best Value Schools

Boise State University

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Health
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $8,364
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $25,701
  • Rankings*: #331 in National Universities, #169 in Top Public Schools, #123 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs

*Source: U.S. News and World Report

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7. Louisiana

Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans
New Orleans: Saint Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square

For international students looking to pursue their college education in the US, Louisiana is an excellent choice not just for its affordability but also its culture.

Louisiana in-state campus tuition averages $6,600 and out-of-state tuition is a bit over $16,000 for the academic year. With numerous public research universities and colleges, Louisiana is one of the most affordable states.

This affordable state is also a great place for international students to pursue their studies and develop a multicultural perspective. From the famous Cajun cuisine to the rich music and art scene, Louisiana has something for everyone.

Top Public Universities in Louisiana

Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Nursing
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $5,949
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $14,291
  • Rankings*: #101 in Top Public Schools, #105 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs

University of New Orleans

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, and Engineering
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $9,454
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $14,290
  • Rankings*: #211 in Top Public Schools, #190 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs

Louisiana Tech University

  • Academics: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Nursing
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $3,615.00
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $7,338
  • Rankings*: #162 in Top Public Schools, #150 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs




8. Alaska

Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage, Alaska

Alaska’s average tuition and fees are $6,110 in-state and $14,622 out-of-state, making it one of the best states to go to college. Unfortunately, living costs here are significantly less so.

Housing in Alaska is 18% higher than the national average, and utilities are 36% higher. As a result, living on campus may work out cheaper than renting property off-campus.

In-state students who can live with their parents throughout college are best suited to taking advantage of Alaska’s affordable college fees.

Top Public Universities in Alaska

University of Alaska – Anchorage

  • Academic Programs: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Marine Research, Business, Engineering, and Nursing
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $8,418
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $25,398
  • Rankings*: #64 in Regional Colleges West, #32 in Top Public Schools, #87 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs

University of Alaska – Fairbanks

  • Academic Programs: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, and Doctorate Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, Oceanography, Fisheries, and Health
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $7,248
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $28,470
  • Rankings*: #331 in National Universities, #169 in Top Public Schools

University of Alaska – Southwest

  • Academic Programs: Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business, Engineering, Marine Studies, and Health
  • In-State Tuition and Fees: $6,960
  • Out-of-State Tuition and Fees: $21,558
  • Rankings*: #90 in Regional Colleges West, #45 in Top Public Schools

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Choose the Right College at the Right Cost

College Students

Looking for an affordable university?

Affordability is a huge factor when deciding where to go to college, but it’s just one part of the equation. Quality of education, personal values, and career goals are all important factors when deciding where to go to college.

Consider the quality of a college, the city environment, and the type of lifestyle these offer you in addition to college tuition and fees.

Selecting the cheapest colleges is one way to go, but make sure those colleges offer the academic and career training opportunities you are looking for.

Get information about their career services, job placement opportunities, networking events, or entrepreneurial projects.

Make sure to weigh all your options and take the time to find the right choice for you!





Conclusion: Finding the Cheapest College Education in the USA

Overall, the USA remains a great option for international college students searching for academic excellence and affordable costs.

While the cost of living varies dramatically between states, it is clear that some of the best and cheapest states for international college students include New Mexico, North Carolina, Louisiana, and many more.

All these affordable states offer incredible universities, lower tuition rates, and a diverse and interesting culture to explore. So start with this college guide, select the best states and universities for you, and make your college dreams come true.

As Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” Open the door to opportunity and explore the cheapest state colleges for international students today!

Denisse Romero, author
Denisse Romero
About | + posts

Denisse is a global education and communications consultant, as well as the main person behind MacQuil. As an international mentor and frequent traveler, she enjoys sharing information to help anyone travel, study or work abroad.

Denisse holds a Master's in Management from GWU, a Master's in Education from Harvard University and an Executive Coaching Certificate from the University of Cambridge.

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