Differential Tuition: Why Your Choice of Major Could Cost You Big

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Thinking about a liberal arts degree? Or maybe engineering? How about economics? Picking a college major is a big decision, and can have a real impact on your post-graduation path. However, you also might pay more depending on which degree you decide to pursue, because of something called differential tuition.

Differential tuition – in which the cost of tuition and fees varies depending on your major – is a growing trend in colleges. Here’s what you need to know about the differential tuition model, and how it could affect your own college costs:

What is differential tuition?

Schools that use a differential tuition model base tuition costs on factors such as your field of study and the market value of your degree, student demand for the major and the cost of instruction. So, for example, if you plan to major in a STEM field, you may see your tuition rates, or fees, rise based on these factors, depending on your school and your specific program. Differential tuition may refer to your total tuition, or it may be the supplementary amount added to your base tuition rate.

For example, a 2017 study (led by researchers from New York University, Arizona State University and University of Louisville) found that the base total cost of attendance for state residents attending school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign at the time was $15,438 per semester.

However, if you were studying chemistry or life sciences, your bill would have jumped to $17,940. Over the course of a four-year program, that would add over $20,000 to your college costs (and that’s without calculating year-over-year tuition and fee hikes).

Similarly, the University of Maryland states on its website that students in its business and engineering schools, or those who declare majors in the Department of Computer Science, are charged differential tuition. They also note that differential tuition will only be charged to students who have earned 60 or more credits.

For the 2019-2020 academic year, the differential tuition charge for full-time students was $1,498 per semester, while the charge for part-time students was $118 per credit, according to the university’s website.

Why do schools charge more for certain majors?

As noted above, there are several reasons a school may choose to charge differential tuition, including if a particular major is in high demand or has a higher or lower market value. Schools may also need to charge more for some majors in part because they are pricier. An engineering program, for example, needs more advanced technology and labs than an English program. By tailoring pricing according to major, schools may also avoid across-the-board tuition hikes.

“Differential tuition allows for enhancements to the learning experience,” said Delisa Falks, assistant vice president for scholarships and financial aid at Texas A&M. “This could include extra course sections, new computers and equipment, extra lecturers and study abroad programs.” She added that a portion of the funding is used to provide grants and scholarships to students.

Meanwhile, the University of Maryland says that “to make sure we can welcome students from all backgrounds, we use differential tuition to provide financial aid to the students who need it most.”

However, there are critics of the differential tuition model. Some believe the premiums for some majors could discourage students from studying pivotal subjects. For lower-income students, this could make some majors cost-prohibitive.

How can you 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, look at these three sources as a way to make up the tuition differential:

1. Complete the FAFSA for aid, grants and federal loans
2. Search for scholarships
3. Turn to private student loans if necessary

1. Complete the FAFSA for aid, grants and federal loans

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 federal grants.

Unlike loans, grants don’t need to be paid back, making them a valuable tool to pay for school. The more grants you have, the less student debt with which you will graduate. If you need help completing the application, here’s information on how you can 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 or non-federal grants 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. See this story on how one woman earned more than $50,000 in scholarships.

At Texas A&M, 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 may be eligible for scholarships. Many are awarded based on your grades, athletic accomplishments, field of study or even such obscure things as your duck-calling abilities. Go here to explore 10 scholarship tools to help you find money for college.

3. Turn to private student loans if necessary

If you’ve exhausted your federal aid and scholarship options, you can fill the gap by applying for private student loans. Private loans have fewer repayment benefits than federal loans, and you generally have to have good credit to get favorable interest rate terms. But private loans may be a useful tool to help you pay for school and living expenses, depending on your circumstances.

You can compare terms and interest rates from several different lenders in our private student loan marketplace.

How can you deal with the 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 an unpleasant surprise later. Keep in mind as well that, even if you choose a more expensive major, you may be able to save money through grants, scholarships and student loan forgiveness programs, which are generally aimed at people who choose to use their degrees to serve at-need populations.

For more information on managing your school expenses, learn how to make — and stick to — a student budget in college.

Rebecca Stropoli contributed to this report

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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
     
  2. Explanation of Rates “With Autopay” (APD)
    Rates shown include 0.25% APR discount when client agrees to make monthly principal and interest payments by automatic electronic payment. Use of autopay is not required to receive an Earnest loan.

    Available Terms
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    Primary Only – 10, 12, 15 years

    In school deferred payment is not available in AL, AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, MI, ND, NY, PA, and WA).


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3 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

  1. Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
  2. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 9/24/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.


4 Important Disclosures for Discover.

Discover Disclosures

  1. Aggregate loan limits apply.
  2. Students who get at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) qualify for a one-time cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan. Reward redemption period is limited. Please visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for any applicable reward terms and conditions.
  3. Lowest APRs shown are available for the most creditworthy applicants and include an interest-only repayment discount and Auto Debit Reward. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including undergraduate and graduate loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.375% as of July 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Our lowest APR is only available to customers with the best credit and other factors. Your APR will be determined after you apply. It will be based on your credit history, which repayment option you choose and other factors, including your cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates.
  4. Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for the Discover Private Consolidation Loan and include an Auto Debit Reward. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.375% as of July 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Our lowest APR is only available to customers with the best credit and other factors. Your APR will be determined after you apply. It will be based on your credit history, which repayment option you choose and other factors, including your cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.

5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

sofiDisclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.76% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.90% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.83% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.80% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.98% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.97% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 11.26% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.90% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 07/10/2020. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).


6 Important Disclosures for Ascent.

Ascent Disclosures

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.

  1. Competitive variable rates calculated monthly at the time of loan approval based on a margin plus the 1-Month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) rounded to the nearest 1/100th of a percent. The current LIBOR is 0.176%, which may adjust monthly. Your interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes. Rates are effective as of 09/01/2020 and reflect an Automatic Payment Discount. Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. (See Automatic Payment Discount Terms & Conditions.)
    1. Undergraduate Loans: Your variable interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes, resulting in an APR range between 2.71% and 12.99%.  Fixed rate loans will not increase or decrease over the life of the loan and have an APR range between 3.53% and 14.50%. Rates reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25% on the lowest offered rate and a 2.00% discount on the highest offered rate. The following table shows a 48 month in-school period plus 9 months of grace prior to a full repayment term of either: 60-months (lowest fixed/variable rate), 144-months (highest fixed rate) or 180-months (highest variable rate) with examples of (i) Interest Only payments, (ii) $25 Minimum payments, and (iii) Deferred repayment options. (See Undergraduate Loan repayment examples.)
  2. Payments may be deferred. Subject to lender discretion, forbearance and/or deferment options may be available for borrowers who are encountering financial distress.
  3. Making interest only or partial interest payments while in school will not reduce the principal balance of the loan. There are three (3) flexible in-school repayment options that include fully deferred, interest only and $25 minimum repayment. (See Undergraduate Loan repayment examples.)
  4. Flexible repayment plans may be offered up to a fifteen (15) year repayment term for a variable rate loan and ten (10) year repayment term for a fixed rate loan. Students must be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school. Minimum loan amount is $2,000.
  5. Interest rate reduction of either 0.25% (for Credit-Based Loans) or 2.00% (for Undergraduate Future Income-Based Loans) applies only when the borrower and/or cosigner sign up for automatic payments and the payment amount is successfully deducted from the designated bank account each month. The amount of the discount is dependent upon the loan product and credit history of the borrower at the time of application. Interest rate reduction(s) will not apply during periods when no payment is due, including periods of in-school, deferment, grace or forbearance, unless a regular payment amount has been arranged with the servicer. If you have two (2) consecutive returned payments for Nonsufficient Funds, we may cancel your automatic debit enrollment and you will lose the interest rate reduction. You will then need to re-qualify and re-enroll in automatic debit payments to receive the interest rate reduction.(See Automatic Payment Discount Terms & Conditions.)
  6. All applicants (individual and cosigner) are required to complete a brief online financial literacy course as part of the application process to be eligible for funding.
  7. Eligibility, loan amount and other loan terms are dependent on several factors, which may include: loan product, other financial aid, creditworthiness, school, program, graduation date, major, cost of attendance and other factors. Aggregate loan limits may apply. The cost of attendance is determined and certified by the educational institution.
  8. The legal age for entering into contracts is eighteen (18) years of age in every state except Alabama where it is nineteen (19) years old, Nebraska where it is nineteen (19) years old (only for wards of the state), and Mississippi and Puerto Rico where it is twenty-one (21) years old.
  9. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Click here for details. In order to be eligible for the 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward, borrower must meet the following criteria after graduation:
    • The student borrower has graduated from the degree program that the loan was used to fund.
    • The student borrower may change majors and/or transfer to a different school, but must obtain the same level of degree (e.g. – undergraduate or graduate)
    • The graduation date is more than 90 days and less than five (5) years after the date of the loan’s first disbursement.
    • Any loan that the student has borrowed under the Ascent loan is not more than 30-days delinquent or in a default status as of the graduation date and until any Graduation Reward is paid.
  10. Students can apply to release their cosigner and continue with the loan in only their name after making the first 24 consecutive regularly scheduled full principal and interest payments on-time and meeting the other eligibility criteria to qualify for the loan without a cosigner.

* Application times vary depending on the applicant’s ability to supply the necessary information for submission.


7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.17% effective Sep 1, 2020 and may increase after consummation.


Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.