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Is tuition per year or per semester?

December 22, 2018

If you went to public high school, chances are you’ve never had to pay tuition before. This can leave you with a lot of questions. Find out how tuition pricing works.


What is tuition?

Tuition is the cost of taking classes at your school. It is what your school charges for the actual instruction.


This should not be confused with cost of attendance (COA), which can include tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, transportation, and other expenses the school expects you will need to incur while enrolled.


The cost of tuition can vary dramatically depending on the school you are aiming to attend. According to College Board, the average yearly tuition and fees for each type of undergraduate institution is the following:


Public Two-Year College (in-district students)


Public Four-Year College (in-state students)


Public Four-Year College (out-of-state students)


Private Four-Year College



You should be able to find tuition information on the college’s admissions website. If you cannot, contact the admissions office.


What does the tuition value represent?

Most colleges present their tuition and fees together as an annual cost. Tuition usually applies to one academic year of college classes (from September to May, for example), unless otherwise specified. There are schools with quarter or semester systems which could break their pricing up that way. Your tuition will likely change slightly every year (most schools increase tuition by about 3% annually, though there are always exceptions).


In most cases when schools charge by the year or semester, it is assumed that you will take a certain number of credits every term, with minor variation, for the same price. Most undergraduate degrees require 120 credit hours over 4 (or more) years, and they may have a range of credit hours that you are expected to take in a given semester. There will be a minimum (to ensure you are making good progress on your academic degree and are engaged in your studies) as well as a maximum (to ensure you aren’t in over your head).


Some schools charge by the credit hour, instead of by the semester or the academic year. If you are going to a school that charges per credit hour, your school will inform you how much each credit costs, how many credits each class is worth and how many credits you need to graduate. Your total tuition over four years will then equal the cost per credit hour times the amount of credit hours you need to graduate.


How and when to pay tuition?

The tuition price tag you find on your college’s website will probably differ from the amount you will be expected to pay in reality. If you used the FAFSA to apply for federal financial aid or were eligible for any school or private scholarships or grants, the cost of tuition will be lower (hopefully drastically so!) from the starting tuition costs provided by the school.


The difference between the original tuition and how much aid you receive will define how much you will be expected to pay. Many colleges and universities provide a payment schedule and give access to an online payment system to make required payments on time. If this is not available, you might be expected to make payments in person at your financial aid office.


Though tuition is an annual cost, you will be expected to pay the value of each term before the beginning of each term (semester, quarter, trimester). For example, you will be expected to pay your fall semester tuition costs before the semester starts in order to enroll in classes.


For any questions regarding your payment schedule, payment method, costs due, or payment plans, contact your financial aid office directly.


Tuition payment plans

If you are not able to make payments by the requested due dates, let your school know immediately and ask if there are any payment plans available.


According to College Board, some colleges offer creative financing plans such as tuition prepayment and deferment. Prepayment is an option for only the most committed of potential students. Learn more from this Vox article.


Deferment plans, if available, vary from school to school. Many offer monthly payment plans, allowing you to pay tuition costs over the course of a range of months. This gives you time to make enough work during school and make tuition payments every month. Most colleges require an upfront fee for these slower payments.


University of Michigan and University of Connecticut are just two of the many colleges participating in monthly payment programs. New York University does something a little different where they defer to three payments where you must cover 50% of the cost up front and complete two more payments of 25% at specific times throughout the semester. Learn more at Consumer Reports.


Though colleges differ in the format of their deferment plans, many institutions offer them and they are a money-saving alternative to paying off loan interest.