Rankings: See the Most Affordable Colleges in the Northeast

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In the Northeast, students and their families face some of the highest college costs in the nation. Yet choosing a public or local college is one of the best ways to keep educational costs and student debt low.

With Northeast schools carrying above-average costs, it’s more crucial for students in this region to compare tuition rates and choose an affordable college.

To help you find those schools, we surveyed 310 public and private colleges in the Northeast to find where students pay the lowest tuition and graduate with the least amount of student debt.

Key findings

  • In the Northeast, public colleges offer some of the best deals to local students. Out of the top 20 affordable colleges in this region, 19 are local city or state universities.

  • New York’s city and state colleges are standouts. Across campuses, the State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) systems charge low tuitions, and the state recently introduced a tuition-free college program.

  • Two schools in Maine and one in Rhode Island made the list.

  • Annual tuition and fees among the 20 most affordable colleges averaged $8,295. That’s below the national average college cost for in-state students at four-year public schools.

The costs of Northeast colleges

Among U.S. regions, the Northeast is the most expensive one to attend college and earn an undergraduate degree.

Northeast families spent 49% more on college in 2017 than the average U.S family, found the Sallie Mae survey “How America Pays for College.”

While the national out-of-pocket college costs averaged $23,757, Northeast college students and their families paid $35,431. That’s a difference of just less than $11,700.

But students living in the Northeast aren’t stuck paying a premium to attend college near home. As with any region, some Northeast colleges are a better value for students than others.

Top 20 affordable colleges in the Northeast

To find the most affordable Northeast colleges, we surveyed costs at 310 schools in the region.

We compared each college’s tuition and fees for the most recent school year for which it was reported (2016-17 or 2017-18), and the average student debt balance of 2016 graduates, as reported to online college database Peterson’s. Having this information handy may allow you to pick a school where you can reduce your dependency on student loans to afford an education.

Here are the top 20 Northeast colleges where students pay less for their degree and graduate with the lowest balances.

Rank Northeast college Tuition and fees Average debt
1 York College (CUNY) $6,957 $4,614
2 Baruch College (CUNY) $7,115 $5,642
3 Lehman College (CUNY) $7,010 $8,525
4 Hunter College (CUNY) $6,980 $13,000
5 Queens College (CUNY) $7,138 $14,225
6 City College of New York (CUNY) $6,740 $16,942
7 University of Maine at Presque Isle $7,884 $22,934
8 Davis College $16,300 $5,360
9 University of Maine at Machias $7,726 $23,734
10 Fashion Institute of Technology (SUNY) $7,463 $24,850
11 University at Albany (SUNY) $9,423 $21,217
12 College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY) $8,543 $24,269
13 SUNY Geneseo $8,408 $24,784
14 SUNY New Paltz $7,775 $26,283
15 SUNY Cobleskill $8,139 $26,520
16 Stony Brook University (SUNY) $9,257 $24,656
17 SUNY Oneonta $8,166 $27,045
18 Buffalo State College (SUNY) $7,976 $27,672
19 Rhode Island College $8,776 $26,519
20 SUNY Delhi $8,120 $28,367

Across these 20 Northeast colleges, the average annual tuition and fees are $8,295, well below the $9,970 national average college cost for in-state students at four-year public schools.

The average student loan balance across these top 20 colleges was also significantly lower at $19,858, which is half the $39,400 average student debt for 2017 graduates.

Of the Northeast’s 20 most affordable colleges, one is a private school: Davis College in Johnson City, New York. Despite tuition costs that are about twice as high as other colleges on the list, Davis College makes the list thanks to its graduates’ low student debt.

Of the remaining public colleges, 16 are CUNY or SUNY schools. Two of Maine’s public colleges made the list, as well as Rhode Island College in the state of the same name.

Top 10 public colleges in the Northeast

Below, we’ve highlighted the top 10 public colleges that provide the lowest costs in the Northeast. Among these colleges, average tuition and fees total $7,444 a year, while student debt balances average $15,568.

Rank Northeast public college Tuition and fees Average debt
1 York College (CUNY) $6,957 $4,614
2 Baruch College (CUNY) $7,115 $5,642
3 Lehman College (CUNY) $7,010 $8,525
4 Hunter College (CUNY) $6,980 $13,000
5 Queens College (CUNY) $7,138 $14,225
6 City College of New York (CUNY) $6,740 $16,942
7 University of Maine at Presque Isle $7,884 $22,934
8 University of Maine at Machias $7,726 $23,734
9 Fashion Institute of Technology (SUNY) $7,463 $24,850
10 University at Albany (SUNY) $9,423 $21,217

Of colleges in New York, CUNY and SUNY schools charge low tuition rates that are standardized across schools, though extra fees can lead to slight variations in costs at each school.

Additionally, the state recently became the first to set tuition-free college for residents. Under The Excelsior Scholarship, all students with household incomes at or below $125,000 a year will qualify for tuition-free attendance at CUNY or SUNY schools.

Alongside CUNY and SUNY schools, Maine also landed two colleges on the list: the University of Maine at Presque Isle and the University of Maine at Machias.

While New York and Maine are offering some good deals to in-state students, this isn’t true for every public college in the Northeast.

In fact, our recent college credit costs study found that several Northeast states charged some of the highest average costs per credit among public colleges: Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

Top 10 private colleges in the Northeast

While a public school is often a low-cost option, students shouldn’t overlook private universities in their search for affordable Northeast colleges. Each student’s financial situation, student aid, and education goals are different. For some, a private college might be the right fit.

In fact, the Northeast is home to some of the most prestigious private universities in the world, including Ivy League schools. Additionally, many of these private universities offer some of the best and largest financial aid packages to help students cover college costs.

The sticker price is always important to consider, especially when comparing the high costs prevalent at private colleges. To help start your search, we identified the 10 most affordable private universities in the Northeast, per our rankings.

Rank Northeast private college Tuition and fees Average debt
1 Davis College $16,300 $5,360
2 Hilbert College $21,750 $19,233
3 Geneva College $26,070 $10,549
4 Thomas More College of Liberal Arts $21,000 $23,452
5 Mercy College $18,713 $29,197
6 Villa Maria College $22,080 $22,658
7 Husson University $17,010 $33,412
8 Grove City College $17,254 $37,655
9 Paul Smith’s College $27,621 $16,175
10 Utica College $20,676 $33,336

Among these private colleges, students should expect to pay higher tuition. The average across these 10 Northeast private schools was $20,847 a year.

As mentioned, higher tuition and costs don’t always mean a student and their family will pay or borrow more for college.

In fact, the average debt at these private colleges was $23,103, which is just $3,245 higher than the average debt among the 20 most affordable Northeast colleges.

Finding the right Northeast college for your budget

Northeast colleges aren’t the cheapest in the nation, but they can be an affordable option for local students, especially when compared to the cost of out-of-state tuition.

On top of watching for high prices, students can take these actions to help them narrow down their options to the most affordable school.

1. Research and compare every cost you’ll face

Tuition and fees are a great place to start checking for savings, but don’t overlook other college-related expenses. The costs of room and board, textbooks, transportation, and more can quickly add up.

A college in your city with higher tuition could be more affordable if it allows you to live at home rent-free while attending.

2. Compare your net price at each college

Keep in mind that the sticker price at these colleges won’t always represent what you and your family will pay out of pocket. Your net price is the college costs you face after all other student aid is applied. The aid you receive can vary significantly from college to college.

Evaluate financial aid awards offered by each college to which you’re accepted. This will give you the most accurate picture of what you’ll pay at each school. If you find that you may need to take out student loans to cover costs, use our student loan calculator to help you see what repayment may look like.

3. Look for state and city grants, student aid, and other assistance

While the Northeast region has some of the nation’s highest college costs, its states also have some of the strongest support systems in the nation for college students. The Excelsior Scholarship in New York is a great example, but it’s not the only one.

The Rhode Island Promise program allows students to attend in-state colleges tuition-free for two years. And Massachusetts offers seven different state grant programs to help local students cover college costs.

The price tag of a college education in the Northeast might seem high at first, but don’t let it scare you off. Shop around for affordable colleges, consider public schools first, and keep costs top of mind while applying and deciding on the right school for you.

By doing this legwork now, you can find the right Northeast college to keep your costs and student debt low.

Hey, reporters! Want to see more of our original research on colleges and student debt? Check out our latest surveys and studies by signing up for our news updates.

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* 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)All rates shown include the auto-pay 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.

(3)As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.

Information advertised valid as of 11/4/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.

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 rates shown are for the undergraduate loan and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest interest rate offered on the Discover Undergraduate Loan and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including Undergraduate, Graduate, Health Professions, Law and MBA 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. 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 2.00% as of January 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans will 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. Please visit discover.com/student-loans/interest-rates for more information about interest rates.
Discover's lowest rates shown are for the undergraduate loan and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.

4 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.

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. Variable rate loans are based on a margin between 1.90% and 13.50% plus the 1-Month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) rounded to the nearest 1/100th of a percent. The current LIBOR is 1.629%, which may adjust monthly. Your interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes, resulting in an Annual Percentage (APR) range between 3.14% and 11.88%. Fixed rate loans have an APR range between 4.09% and 13.03% based on your credit worthiness and your selected program. Competitive variable rates calculated monthly at the time of loan approval. Rates are effective as of 03/01/2020 and reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25% on the lowest offered rate and a 2.00% discount on the highest offered rate. 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.)
  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.
  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.

5 Important Disclosures for Citizens.

Citizens Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable rate, 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 March 1, 2020, the one-month LIBOR rate is 1.62%. Variable interest rates range from 2.72% – 10.98% (2.72% – 10.83% APR)  and will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Fixed interest rates range from 4.72% – 12.19% (4.72% – 12.04% APR)  based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Lowest rates shown requires application with a co-signer, are for eligible applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, borrower making scheduled payments while in school and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens One is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of the loan.

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 with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, 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 and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. 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 at http://www.citizensone.com/EdRefinance, 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. 

Citizens One Student Loan Eligibility: Borrowers must be enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting program at an eligible institution. Borrowers must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or an international borrower/eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For borrowers who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens One reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Citizens One Student Loans private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens One Student Loans-participating school. 

Please Note: International Students are not eligible for the multi-year approval feature.

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.

2.75% – 10.65%*,1Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit SallieMae

Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit College Ave

Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Discover

3.52% – 9.50%4Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit CommonBond

3.14% – 11.88%5Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Ascent

2.72% – 10.98%6Undergraduate and Graduate


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.