Cost of Tuition Stops US Students from Attending First Choice College

Cost of Tuition Stops US Students from Attending First Choice College

Craig OCallaghan

Updated November 30, 2023 Updated November 30

A new study suggests thousands of young Americans give up on their dreams every year to save money, with 40% of Americans who reject an offer from their first-choice college or university doing so for financial reasons.

The survey of over 50,000 found worries about cost and affordability were the biggest reason why students decided to turn down the opportunity to study at their dream college and pick a more practical alternative.

19% of respondents said their decision was made specifically because of the cost of attendance. Other reasons given included offers of financial aid from other colleges (9%), merit-based scholarships offered by other colleges (6%) and a desire to get value for money (6%).

The survey results suggest many people are surprisingly pragmatic when picking a university destination and are willing to sacrifice their dream destination to save money. This is perhaps unsurprising given annual fees exceed $45,000 at some colleges and universities. Other reasons for declining a top university offer included campus environment, school location and academic reputation.

Concerns about costs were found to apply almost equally to both private and public study destinations. Students turning down offers from public institutions cited costs in 38% of cases, while 41% of students who opted not to attend a private college or university did so for financial reasons.

If there’s any silver lining to this quite depressing news, it’s that colleges and universities might now be more aware of how much importance students place upon scholarships and other forms of financial aid. While it might be too much to expect the amount of scholarships and aid programs to increase, at the very least colleges and universities might become more efficient at publicizing this information and making it easily accessible.

Did the cost of tuition put you off your dream study destination? If so, we want to hear about it. Tell us in the comments below.

Main image: Stanford University (Richard Heyes: Flickr)

This article was originally published in March 2017 . It was last updated in January 2020

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As editor of, Craig oversees the site's editorial content and network of student contributors. He also plays a key editorial role in the publication of several guides and reports, including the QS Top Grad School Guide.

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