The U.S. Department of Education has just released its new college affordability numbers, designed to help families and students choose colleges. This also allows observers to look up fun things like the list of the country’s expensive collages. So what are the costly ones?

Well it’s sort of complicated.

In part this is because colleges can hide their true costs through financial aid polices. Colleges might officially charge a high price, but financial aid really means only fairly rich people pay such prices; most people pay a lot less.

Check out the list of America’s private colleges, for instance. Here are the most expensive colleges, in terms of official tuition:

  • Landmark College $49,793
  • Columbia University $47,246
  • Sarah Lawrence College $46,924
  • Vassar College NY $46,270
  • Wesleyan University $45,928
  • George Washington University $45,780
  • Carnegie Mellon University $45,760
  • Trinity College $45,730
  • University of Chicago $45,609
  • Bucknell University $45,378

Those are pretty familiar names. But here are the most expensive private colleges in terms of net price, what the average student actually pays:

  • Hult International Business School $46,746
  • School of the Art Institute of Chicago $44,838
  • The Boston Conservatory $43,894
  • California Institute of the Arts $42,616
  • Landmark College $41,437
  • The New School $41,310
  • Art Center College of Design $40,698
  • Ringling College of Art and Design $40,354
  • Berklee College of Music $40,145
  • San Francisco Art Institute $39,986

There’s very little overlap. Columbia might officially be the 2nd most expensive college in America, but the real net price is only about $23,000 a year, which is a lot more affordable. The truly most expensive colleges in America, schools that cost a lot of money and offer crappy financial aid, include a lot of pretty obscure colleges.

(The public colleges list has a lot more overlap between the top high tuition schools and the top net price schools.)

That’s what makes making college decisions so difficult for American high school students. What’s really a good deal? Financial aid sure makes it hard to figure out.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer