I was having a conversation with colleagues the other day on the topic of university tuition and how expensive it is getting in some parts of Canada.  Then it was mentioned that Canadian tuitions pale in comparison to some of the top US schools.  Out of curiosity, off I went to do some research on how much Ivy League Schools really cost.  I did a search on Ivy League Schools, and other well known US universities.


  • Annual Tuition: $38,650
  • Room and Board: $12,630
  • Misc Expenses (books, insurance etc): $3,384 (insurance only)


  • Annual Tuition: $38,480
  • Room and Board: $14,620
  • Misc Expenses (books, insurance etc): $4,674


  • Annual Tuition: $41,328
  • Room and Board: $11,808
  • Misc Expenses (books, insurance etc): $unknown


  • Annual Tuition: $23,664
  • Room and Board: ~$10,000
  • Misc Expenses (books, insurance etc): $2,400 (insurance only)


  • Annual Tuition: $43,185
  • Room and Board: ~$12,000
  • Misc Expenses (books, insurance etc): $2,000 (insurance only)

University of Pennsylvania

  • Annual Tuition: $43,738
  • Room and Board: $12,368
  • Misc Expenses (books, insurance etc): ~$3,400


  • Annual Tuition: $33,400
  • Room and Board: $12,320
  • Misc Expenses (books, insurance etc): ~$3,700


  • Annual Tuition: $40,732
  • Room and Board: $11,775
  • Misc Expenses (books, insurance etc): $2,763


  • Annual Tuition: $40,050
  • Room and Board: ~$13,000
  • Misc Expenses (books, insurance etc): $3,384 (insurance only)

These numbers are head and shoulders above Canadian schools.  For example, the University of Waterloo, known for their Engineering Program charges $10k in tuition and $2k in fees.  Count for room and board, the cost totals around $20k per year.

While $20k per year is expensive, it’s less than half the price of an US Ivy League school where the cost is about $50k per year (except Columbia).  To put it in context, completing a 4 year undergraduate degree at a top US university will require an investment of at least $200,000.  Here we thought that having a student loan balance of $40k was high, imagine having a student loan the size of an average mortgage!

If you attended post secondary, what University did you attend and how much did you pay in tuition?

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The numbers can’t be taken at face value. Financial aid packages help out a vast majority of students. Some initiatives at my alma mater (one of the above) include:

Families with a total family income of less than $60,000, and total assets of less than $100,000 (including primary home equity), will have no parent contribution.

Students from families with a total annual income under $75,000 will have no student loans as part of their financial aid package, reducing the debt owed by the student and/or family after graduation.

It was a couple years ago but I graduated and was able to pay off my debt from undergrad and grad school in less than 1.5 years (while working at an entry level Canadian position and without living with my parents). Canadian students should not think it’s impossible or not worth it.

I went to Acadia University in Nova Scotia and at the time (2000-2004) was one of the more expensive undergrads in the country ($5500).

In some fields, having a strong pedigree will pay dividends as a result of the network you can build off of. Primarily, business degrees come to mind.

The name brand school will matter to some…but does it matter to all…I don’t think so. Would really like to hear other people’s opinions too!

If the US is anything like Canada, those aid packages are only valid for American Citizens.

@ FT
Your Waterloo Engineering quote is for a Canadian citizen, not a foreign student (say an American wanted to go to Waterloo). You’ll find the tuition costs for non-Citizens / Permanent residents is probably double. This is because Canadian universities receive government funding subsidies.

It makes sense that if you (or your parents) didn’t pay into the pot with your taxes, you can’t take out of it either.

As for tuition costs, in 1999, undergraduate tuition for Engineering at McMaster University was $5200 plus fees, etc. In 2003 it had climbed to $6200. I believe McMaster is on part with Waterloo in terms of costs, $9K to $10K now for undergraduate Engineering.

If you are reading this and you are a Montreal protestor time to do a serious reality check. Of course no Montrealer dumb enough to riot over their heavily subsidized, half the cost of the rest of the country, tuition would be reading finance blogs.

I work at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta and it costs $6,781 for a full year of tuition and books. Add another $8k for living expenses if you don’t live at home and you’re close to $15k a year.


When I started engineering at McMaster in 1987 the tuition was $1643(tuition only – books were ~$800). That seemed a reasonable cost back then.

My oldest starts in 3-4 years – tuition is going to be $10K? Good thing I am planning ahead…

I am sure Canadian students will have to pay international student fee when studying in the US. The numbers you have above, are they international student fees? For example in Canada, international students pay about twice as that of local students.

The prices listed above are the “sticker prices”. Very few US students pay anywhere near the actual listed rate for tuition at these “prestigious” schools. This is not a fair comparison. For example a student who gets into Harvard (“not easy to do”) with a family income of less than 65,000 a year pays no tuition. Even higher income families, only pay a fraction of the full tuition. These schools use the high price along with financial aid to help them select the students that they want admitted.

Please do some research before post blogs like this. Normally, the content of this blog is excellent. This post is not.

I went to the University of Colorado. As a resident, I had in state tuition, which is far lower than the $30,000 per year charged for out of state students. My total cost over four years was just over $60,000 including tuition, fees, book, and room and board.

I had a great scholarship, though, which covered $60,000. The other few thousand I needed for rent the last year was not a big deal.

Yeah, those tuition numbers are somewhat bogus in the sense that hardly anyone at all pays full tuition at Ivy League schools.

Essentially, the only people who pay full tuition are those students who are (a) rich and (b) not very intelligent.

Both non-rich and intelligent students get aid.

Went to Waterloo for Engineering. Although the cost is high, the co-op program more than made up for it. The only year I had to pay with financial aid was first year before I got my first co-op job. Every year afterwards, I was able to pay off the coming school term (tuition and living expenses) with money saved from the co-op term.

Many of those schools have rather generous endowments and have a history of providing generous aid packages to low-income students (I graduated from one of those schools with about $20K in debt and no parental assistance). To me, that’s a lot of debt (especially in the 90s), though it was well worth it.

I think more than a couple of those schools now provide substantial support to middle class students and at least two of them structure financial aid packages so students can graduate debt-free (in theory, but I’d be willing to be very few do).

I work for an NGO and am fully confident I could afford to send my kid to at least four of the institutions on this list (whether they get in is another matter). And given the quality of the education, I’d strongly encourage them to go to one, if they got in.

University of Guelph, 1985~1989. My parents budgeted $5000/academic year to cover all costs. I’m now at University of Calgary. Tuition alone this year will be $6000!

I recall that my tuition (Quebec in the early eighties) was about $500 a semester. I could pay for it, and books, by myself by working during the summer, but had to cover room and board by part time work during the school year.

My parents were “too rich” for me to qualify for student subsidies, but I managed to get through without any debt.

I don’t think today’s students could earn enough during a single summer to pay for books and tuition…

Simon Fraser University 1993-98
Tuition: $3800/y (incl books)
Living: $10,000/y

Tuition freeze was removed in about 2000 after I graduated. I don’t know what it is now. Once on scholarship, tuition was fully covered; add in some decent internships in the 1990s and I graduated with a surplus. I have remained in Canada and have probably paid my educational costs back and then some in tax plus my ongoing volunteer efforts that have been enhanced via a solid undergraduate education.

A sad state of affairs when I think that the money invested in me has not been repaid by those who have left for other jurisdictions. Alas the pursuit of money usurps what I thought was an implicit understanding of what was being given to us.

When looking at the student protests in Quebec I can’t help but think that if you charge people a lot for education, people like myself, who “get it” will no longer give you much goodwill in return.

I graduated from the University of Guelph and McGill. I had about $40K student debt at the time. I can’t remember how much tuition was. I do remember I worked through school.
As for the US schools, I’ve worked in the US in Boston and I must say they aren’t that bright. I recall one person having a science degree who couldn’t even perform a ratio calculation. I’ve found the quality of Canadian education far superior to the US.

I graduated without debt from law school at the University of Victoria in 2003. I had enough in scholarships and work study and work in the summer to be debt free. Mind you, I worked 20 hours a week while in law school. The year after I graduated tuition fees went up 33%. They have since risen again I believe because the tuition freeze was lifted. This would have added an additional $15,000 to my costs.


Financial aid packages are a combination of parental contribution, student contribution (mostly through summer and work study), grants and loans. My package for example consisted of all of the above. It is true that I had to work on campus and work during the summers but that was hardly hardship.

I found the financial aid office to be quite helpful. In my senior year, my dad lost his job. I wrote to them and they gave me an extra award in the low 5 figures. It is this generosity to me that I felt during those four years that has made me loyal to the college. Don’t think it’s just millionaires who make Ivy League schools so successful with alumni fundraising, high contribution rates also help. I have donated to Cornell every years since graduating.

The new policy is that students whose parents make below the cut off will have more grants. Their parents will still be required to contribute something and I’m quite certain that work study will remain a must.

My understanding is that the schools request that admission materials and financial aid be submitted separately. The admission officers can never know for certain that a student is also applying down the street to the financial aid office.

Savvy students who make it into multiple top colleges then typically use the financial aid packages as bargaining chips. Moreover, students who make it to the Ancient Eight typically have the merit to earn other, often substantial, scholarships.


When I attended, the financial aid packages were for both American and Canadians. I was a Canadian resident and did not have American citizenship. I have no information that the policy has since been revoked. Additionally, because I was mandated to do work study, I was also given a Social Security Number and allowed to work.

University of Waterloo, Math, 2003-2007
Tuition was around $6000/Year, $10000 board. My scholarship helped quite a bit and co-op just paid off pretty much everything.

All of these schools are private universities, which means that there is no “foreign student” or “non-resident” fee. Probably because they are not subsidized by state governments. (e.g. UCLA is a state school, and would charge a non-resident a higher tuition fee). You can’t directly compare the costs because you’re comparing subsidized tuition from Ontario vs. non-subsidized tuition in these private universities.

As a Canadian, you wouldn’t be eligible for certain Federal grants and aid. In some cases, schools will not award any financial aid if you are not eligible to fill out a FAFSA (I don’t know if that is the case for all of the above listed schools). In that case, as a foreigner, you are essentially going to have to pay for school without any aid at all.

UCali used to be free.

I’ve read multiple opinion articles stating the reason behind the massive tuition jumps has been the massive growth in credit over the past few decades. In other words, the more money available, the more people will charge for their good/service.

I tend to agree on this point.

That, and unions.

I don’t think you should only be looking at the cost of the degree for a true comprison. Compare the median starting salary to the cost and I think that would tell the true story.

If you get a certain type of degree from Harvard or Yale, even with a 200k student loan, you would be set for life. You get to network with the best of the best in America.Your professors are quoted daily in the WSJ, NYT and have been advisors to the President etc. etc. .. not like the ones nobody has every heard of. Also, Ivy League alum tend to be a lot more faithful to each other than the Cdn schools. Take a look at the Boards and leadership, even down to the analyst level, at the i-banks, private equity, etc. Also, if you plan on staying in Canada forever its probably best to pay less and go to a Canadian school. If you want to be involved on a global scale with a multinational, the Ivy League brand power would a lot further. I believe the UofT has good international recognition as well as Schulich, Ivy, Rotman, and Queens B-schools, but the rest no way.

I don’t think you should consider it an apples to apples comparison. It’s not like you have the option of paying 50k or 200k for a GM car, its like paying 50k to get the GM or 200k to get a ferrari that never breaks down or requires maintenance.

Also, there are more scholarship/grant options in the US which are income-tested, so I would be surprised to see anyone but the wealthy paying the full pop. There was a website I encountered I while back that would tell you what your real tuition would be after inputting your income, but I can’t recal the link.

@Steve(1), I don’t quite understand why the fact that tuition is higher elsewhere should make Montrealers protesting against their local tuition increases “dumb”. A race to the bottom isn’t a great idea.
@SST, US universities are less likely than Canadian ones to be unionized, so it’s hard to blame the unions for this one. The rise in fees in the California system has a lot more to do with crazy referendum propositions that make it impossible for the state to raise funds.
@FrugalTrader, Memorial’s even cheaper for graduate school… even for foreign students! In addition to a decent government subsidy, the university has a difficult combination of high fixed costs (yes, SST, especially labour :)) and a declining local birthrate. So those extra spots really don’t cost the university much, if anything, so they might as well be used to give non-Newfoundlanders a decent low-cost education. I encourage people to check it out.

I strongly agree with Gerard.

Who cares what the rest of Canada pays in tuition. Or what Americans pay.

In fact, shouldn’t the rest of Canada say why are we paying that much when its cheaper in most of Europe and Quebec?! High tuition is an anglo-saxon cultural choice, not an actual need/must for creating a better society.

I studied abroad. My Bachelors in Science was from India at a University that had free education. My Masters in Computer Applications costed me around $50 per year – so as good as free. Books were around $50 per year, room/boarding around $600 per year. That was back in 1994. My wife’s Ph.D. was almost free as well.

I am really grateful for all that. Thanks to that degree, I am successful in life. Well-settled in Canada. I am saving for my kid’s education via RESP. I am not sure where they would like to go to college but yes, I know for sure their RESP won’t be sufficient should they decide to go to college here in Canada or in USA unless the kids turn out to be brilliant and get the scholarships or grants.

What is even scarier than the tuition itself is the combination of direct costs and opportunity costs. About ten years ago, after having completed an engineering degree, I decided to go to law school at the University of Toronto. Tuition was $15,000/yr at that time – it has since risen to $22,000. Books were another $1,000 per year. I calculate the total cost of that degree as follows:

Tuition: $45,000
Books: $3,000
Three years out of the labour force: $90,000 (based on a $50,000/yr salary for engineers in training, of which approximately $30,000 would be net)
Missing out on the craziest appreciation in real estate prices in the recent past from 2002 until 2006 (when I had my first permanent position that allowed me to qualify for a mortgage): ca. $150,000.

Minus total income over three years of law school (from summer and part-time-work): $25,000

Total Cost: $263,000, or $87,667/yr.

While I do out-earn a lot of engineers, it is not by that much. I am not convinced that after six years of steady work I have recovered the total cost of almost $300K. This may take until I am ten years out. Furthermore, the out-earning appears to be linked more to long hours and a lot of weekend work compared to many engineers that are more 9-5. The problem is that the costs are worth it in large markets where the sky is the limit for certain professionals – on Bay Street, I was certainly out-earning the engineers of a similar age by a factor of two. However, in smaller markets, where many of us, including myself, return to to set down roots, the differences between what can be earned in a “high-flying” profession (law, investment, etc.) and a more “down-to-earth” profession (engineering, accounting, etc.) is a lot less.

There is no way that at $22,000 a year, I would still have made that decision. Come to think of it, had I understood the concept of opportunity cost and the gamble I was taking more fully, I might have taken the steady paycheque and a more serene life in my early 20s instead.

I agree with Dave. You are paying for the higher quality of instruction, and the prestige that will bring you much farther in your career than a degree from a Canadian university. I can’t imagine some of the crappy professors I’ve had at the University of Alberta ever making the cut at an Ivy League school

I went to UofToronto, Yale, and the UofCalgary. Canadian universities appear inexpensive (my undergrade was 4k), but they give hardly any scholarships, and most everyone pays the majority of their tuition. In my experience hardly anyone pays those absurd Ivy tuition amounts.

I applied to multiple US schools for grad school, some of which were just bargaining chips for the schools I truly wanted to attend (…”so and so is giving me X$$, so what are you going to give me so I can afford to attend your school…”). Some of the “paying” students somehow seem to compensate for everyone else who isn’t paying.

Bottom line: if someone truly has the ability to attend any Ivy school, then there will be no financial penalty for doing so, ESPECIALLY for a foreigner. US students get loans to cover their tuition, yes. Canadian students receive scholarships instead, quite often close to full, if not even including stipends, or even less than paying Canadian tuition. The Ivy schools want the best. Then, if there is still a spot or two and no more scholarships, they’ll fill it with someone who will pay the whole schbang (my obviously fancy Ivy-League word, haha).

I attended Ryerson University in one of their engineering programs (2002-2006). Tuition was approx $5600 per year (excluding books, room & board). I was very fortunate enough to be accepted into the Canadian Forces under the Regular Officer Training Plan (ROTP) which paid my tuition and books. In addition to having my education completely paid for, I also received a salary which more than covered all of my living expenses. I would certainly recommend this program for anyone that is interested in obtaining a university degree and joining the military. While this does mean obligatory service (approx 5 years after obtaining your degree), it is well worth the experience!

We are Cdn citizens and residents. Our son applied to some US schools and was accepted at one. Tuition is the same for US and Cdn residents. They basically tax your household based on income/assets. In our case, they accepted him and immediately offered $156,000 in tuition aid. We basically only pay what we had saved in the RESP divided by four, each year, plus travel. The U is very generous with student employment and gives monetary rewards for certain innovations and projects. He made well over $6k from the U over his first year for doing some well-paid work. The real value is having faculties full of nobel lauriates, extraordinarily articulate and sharp people, miles above those in our local U’s, and the networking with other students is invaluable. The difference between the factory-like U our other children went to, our my wife and I went to, is astounding. I am now a fan of the US ivy leagues; and feel they are much easier and more equitable in cost than Cdn U’s. These big ivy leagues have the pick of the best students, and know they are in a competitive market to nab them. In contrast, Waterloo, Queens barely acknowledged our son’s application and offered the standard $3k scholarship. Neither followed up to find out why he didn’t go there, or where he went.

I went to McGill for undergrad and just finished grad school at Harvard. While the “posted” graduate tuition at Harvard is relatively expensive (~$45k per year) nearly everyone there is studying on scholarship, many of which are offered directly from the University. Harvard covered all my tuition and I certainly wasn’t the exception. If you’re accepted they won’t allow money to be a barrier. The University endowment is well over $30b – tuition is merely the icing on their cake. By way of comparison I didn’t get a penny in scholarships to study at McGill or to stay in Canada for grad school…

I think this is a real crisis. I hope to return to Canada as soon as I can, but I look around and many of the brightest Canadian minds are being poached by American grad school and will likely never return home. And we wonder why our national productivity lags…