How Your Choice of Major Could Cost You Thousands

Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

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.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the financial institution.

differential tuition
Logo

We’ve got your back! Student Loan Hero is a completely free website 100% focused on helping student loan borrowers get the answers they need. Read more

How do we make money? It’s actually pretty simple. If you choose to check out and become a customer of any of the loan providers featured on our site, we get compensated for sending you their way. This helps pay for our amazing staff of writers (many of which are paying back student loans of their own!).

Bottom line: We’re here for you. So please learn all you can, email us with any questions, and feel free to visit or not visit any of the loan providers on our site. Read less

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.

differential tuition costs

Cost of attendance per semester at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Rates assume student is an Illinois resident and incoming freshman for the Fall 2017 semester.

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 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 2020!
LenderVariable APREligibility 
1.25% – 9.44%*,1Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit SallieMae

1.24%
11.98%
2
Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit College Ave

1.24%
11.37%
3
Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Discover

1.24%
11.44%
4
Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit Earnest

2.73% – 13.01%5Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Ascent

3.52% – 9.50%6Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit CommonBond

* 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.


1 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

2 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 7/1/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.


3 Important Disclosures for Discover.

Discover Disclosures

  1. 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.
  2. View Auto Reward Debit Reward Terms and Conditions at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/AutoDebitReward.
  3. Aggregate loan limits apply.
  4. 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.
  5. Get a variable interest rate from 2.37% APR to 6.14% APR (3-Month LIBOR + 2.00% to 3-Month LIBOR + 5.77%) for either a 10-year or 20-year repayment term. Or lock in a fixed interest rate from 3.99% APR to 7.49% APR for a 10-year repayment term or from 4.24% APR to 7.74% APR for a 20-year repayment term. 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. The margin is based on your credit evaluation at the time of application and does not change. 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.
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.

4 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
    For Cosigned loans – 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years. 
    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).


5 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 0.667%, which may adjust monthly. Your interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes. Rates are effective as of 06/01/2020 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: Variable rate loans have an Annual Percentage (APR) range between 2.73% – 13.01%. Fixed rate loans have an APR range between 3.84% – 14.50% based on your credit worthiness and your selected program. Rates reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25% (for Credit-Based Loans) on the lowest offered rate and a 2.00% discount on the highest offered rate (See Undergraduate Loan repayment examples.)
    2. Graduate Loans: Loans have an APR range between 4.11% and 10.78% based on your credit worthiness and your selected program. Rates reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25%. (See Graduate 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 0.25% for enrollment in automatic debit applies only when the borrower and/or cosigner signs up for automatic payments and the regularly scheduled, current amount due (including full, flat, or interest only payments, as applicable) is successfully deducted from the designated bank account each month. Interest rate reduction(s) will not apply during periods when no payment is due, including periods of In-School, Deferment, Grace or Forbearance. If you have two (2) returned payments for Nonsufficient Funds, we may cancel your automatic debit enrollment and you will lose the 0.25% interest rate reduction. You will then need to re-qualify and re-enroll in automatic debit payments to receive the 0.25% interest rate reduction.
  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.


6 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restrictions. Loans are offered through CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS #1175900).

  1.  Rates are as of July 1, 2019 and include auto-pay discount. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment. Variable rates 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.