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?
- Why do schools charge more for certain majors?
- How can you pay for more expensive majors?
- How can you deal with the total cost of attendance?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
|0.94% – 11.98%1||Undergraduate|
|1.13% – 11.23%*,2||Undergraduate|
|0.99% – 11.44%3||Undergraduate|
|1.50% – 11.33%4||Undergraduate|
|0.95% – 11.18%5||Undergraduate|
|1.03% – 11.01%6||Undergraduate|
|* 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 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
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.
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.
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 11/24/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
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3 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.
4 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Ascent loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs.
Rates are effective as of 10/01/2021 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes income-based loans). 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. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates.
1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions, please visit AscentFunding.com/Cashback. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student borrowers must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs are available for the most creditworthy applicants and may require a cosigner.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 2.99% to 10.66% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 0.95% to 11.18% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.08% to 10.90% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.00% to 11.29% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 10.66% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.15% to 11.18% APR (with autopay). For the SoFi variable-rate product, the variable interest rate for a given month is derived by adding a margin to the 30-day average SOFR index, published two business days preceding such calendar month, rounded up to the nearest one hundredth of one percent (0.01% or 0.0001). APRs for variable-rate loans may increase after origination if the SOFR index increases. 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 11/01/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. Loans originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.03% – 11.01% (1.03% – 10.24% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.23% – 11.70% (3.23% – 10.83% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 10.66% (1.89% – 10.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.23% (4.64% – 10.95% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 9.22% (1.89% – 8.50% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.24% – 9.74% (4.24% – 9.02% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 8.02% (1.89% – 7.72% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.18% – 8.54% (4.18% – 8.24% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.97%-7.06% (1.97%-7.06% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.55%-7.58% (4.55%-7.58% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.44% – 9.58% (4.44% – 9.52% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.39% – 12.82% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.53% – 7.03% (3.53% – 6.75% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.08% APR).
Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates advertised are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of November 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.09%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. Your final variable rate may be based upon the 30-day average SOFR index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
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Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.
Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
7 Important Disclosures for Funding U.
Funding U Disclosures
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.