If you’re planning to become a nurse, engineer, or business manager, you’ll likely earn more than many of your peers once you graduate. That’s a good thing because your education might cost much more than for your friends who studied liberal arts or English.
Differential tuition — where the cost of tuition varies from major to major — is a rapidly growing trend. In fact, a whopping 60 percent of public research universities base tuition prices on your major or year of study, reported The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Here’s what you need to know about the differential tuition model and how it could affect your total cost of attendance.
What is differential tuition?
Schools that use a differential tuition model base tuition costs on factors such as your field of study or the year you’ll graduate. If you plan to major in science or technology, you could see your tuition rates rise dramatically.
At some schools, you might end up paying up to 40 percent more for particular majors, according to a report from The Advisory Board Company.
For example, the base total cost of attendance for Illinois residents attending school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is $15,438 per semester. However, if you plan to study chemistry or life sciences, your bill jumps to $17,940. Over the course of a four-year program, that can add over $20,000 to your college costs.
As of 2015, 86 of 143 public research universities used a differential tuition model. That’s a huge leap from the 1990s, when just nine schools used it.
Why do schools charge more for certain majors?
Schools say they need to charge more for some majors to pay for more expensive programs. An engineering program, for example, needs more advanced technology and labs than an English program. To cover the difference, colleges charge engineering students more than their counterparts in other fields.
Using a differential tuition structure might also prevent across-the-board tuition increases. By tailoring pricing according to major, schools could prevent tuition hikes for all.
Texas A&M, one of the largest universities in the U.S., is one of many schools that uses a differential tuition structure.
According to Delisa Falks, the assistant vice president of scholarships and financial aid at Texas A&M, this model helps them provide a better academic experience.
“Differential tuition allows for enhancements to the learning experience,” said Falks. “This could include extra course sections, new computers and equipment, extra lecturers, and study abroad programs.”
The tuition structure also helps provide opportunities for other students. “A portion of the funding is used to provide grants and scholarships to students,” said Falks.
However, there are critics of the differential tuition model. Some believe that the premiums for some majors could discourage students from studying pivotal subjects. For lower-income students, it could make some subjects cost-prohibitive.
According to MorraLee Keller, director of technical assistance at the National College Access Network, the variable tuition and fees can be confusing and overwhelming for families.
“There’s a possibility that you’ll only find out when your bill arrives,” she told The Pew Charitable Trusts. That could leave some students struggling to fund their chosen major.
How to pay for more expensive majors
Paying to attend a four-year school is hard enough; having to pay a premium for certain majors might seem impossible. But before you decide to switch majors to save money, consider these options to pay for college.
1. Complete the FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your gateway to federal financial aid. Not only do you get access to federal student loans, which typically have lower interest rates and more generous repayment terms than other loans, but you might also qualify for grants.
Unlike loans, grants don’t need to be paid back, making them a valuable tool to pay for school. Many grants go undistributed. In fact, a NerdWallet analysis found that over $2.9 billion in Pell Grants went unclaimed in the 2013-2014 academic year. That’s free money you could be eligible for after submitting the FAFSA.
If you need help completing the application, learn how to fill it out and when you must submit it by.
2. Search for scholarships
Like grants, scholarships provide money that doesn’t need to be paid back. You can get scholarships from your school, nonprofit organizations, or even individuals.
It’s possible to apply for and receive many different scholarships at once to help pay for school. In fact, one woman earned over $50,000 in scholarships.
At Texas A&M, for example, there are robust grant and scholarship initiatives that can help offset the additional costs.
“There are various aid programs that provide funding for low-income students,” said Falks. “Some of these programs are grants at the federal, state, and institutional level. Some scholarships may be designated for low-income students.”
Even if you’re not a low-income student, you might still be eligible for scholarships. Many are awarded based on your grades, athletic accomplishments, or even your duck-calling abilities.
3. Turn to private student loans as a last resort
If you’ve exhausted your federal aid and scholarship options, you can fill the gap by applying for private student loans.
Private loans should be a last resort since they usually have higher interest rates and fewer repayment benefits than federal loans. But they can be a useful tool to pay for school and living expenses so you can complete your degree.
You can compare terms and interest rates from several different lenders in our private student loan marketplace.
Understanding your total cost of attendance
Before deciding where to attend college, make sure you know the total cost of attendance including tuition, room and board, fees, and premiums based on major. Doing your homework now can save you from scrambling to pay your bill later on.
For more information on managing your school expenses, learn how to create a college budget that saves you money.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2018!
|1 Important Disclosures for CollegeAve.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or Nationwide Bank, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Information advertised valid as of 11/1/2018. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
2 Important Disclosures for Discover.
3 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for PNC.
PNC Bank is one of the nation’s largest education loan providers. For over 40 years, PNC has been committed to helping students and their families make possible the adventure of college.
6 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2018 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
7 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
8 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
9 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|3.94% – 12.78%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.06% – 13.06%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.34% – 12.99%2||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.25% – 11.10%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.03% – 11.23%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.12% – 13.13%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.62% – 10.01%7||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.93% – 9.81%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.26% – 12.13%9||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|