Undergraduate Tuition - Frequently Asked Questions

Tuition rates are set by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa. The rates vary by residency status (resident, non-resident, or international), level of study (undergraduate, lower/upper division, graduate, or professional), and field of study.

Tuition rates for part-time students (those taking 11 or fewer credits in a semester) are pro-rated and assessed on a credit hour basis. Students taking only distance education courses are assessed resident tuition rates.

Why is tuition higher for some academic programs compared to others?

Some academic programs charge higher tuition rates because the cost of delivering those programs is higher, and added revenue is needed to ensure a high quality educational experience. Undergraduate students at Iowa State pay higher tuition in the colleges or academic programs listed in the table below:

College or Major

When higher tuition rates typically begin

Minimum semesters before paying higher tuition – direct from high school students**
Business Sophomore30 credits3
Business Junior and Senior

60 credits



30 credits3

Junior and Senior

60 credits6
ArchitectureUpon entry into programNA
Community and Regional PlanningUpon entry into the programNA
Graphic DesignUpon entry into programNA
Integrated Studio ArtsUpon entry into programNA
Interdisciplinary DesignUpon entry into programNA
Interior Design   Upon entry into programNA
Landscape Architecture  Upon entry into programNA
Experiential Learning Based***60 credits6
Specific Majors*60 credits6
Industrial Design*Upon entry into programNA

*Differential tuition for these programs will be charged beginning with the Summer 2017 semester.

**Number of semesters includes summer, and counts regardless of registration status.

***Differential tuition for these programs will be charged beginning with the Fall 2018 semester.


 ~Students majoring in architecture or industrial design begin paying higher tuition rates when they are admitted into those programs.

~Transfer students may be assessed the higher tuition rate upon entry to ISU

If I enroll in one of the programs with higher tuition, will I have to begin paying the higher rate immediately when I arrive at Iowa State?

Students in programs that charge higher tuition typically begin paying the higher rate as junior and seniors (upper division status), once they have completed 60 credits. This is the point where much of students’ coursework is concentrated in their major.

Upper division status is evaluated at the beginning of each semester. A student with 57 credits at the beginning of the semester, for example, would not pay the higher rate.

Why did the tuition rate recently increase for students in my major?

The Board of Regents, State of Iowa, approved higher tuition rates in 2016 for specific academic programs (noted with an “*” in the table above). These rates will take effect beginning with the Summer 2017 semester.

Based on feedback from students, Iowa State plans to phase in the new higher tuition charges over three years (i.e., students will be assessed one-third of the increase in the first year; two-thirds in the second year; and the full amount beginning in the third year).

For future years, the tuition rates for these programs will be adjusted by the same annual percentage increase as the university’s base tuition.

Are the higher tuition rates also assessed for the summer semester?

Yes. However, most students typically take only 1-2 classes during the summer, so in those cases the higher rates would be assessed per credit hour.

Why should upper division students pay higher tuition? 

Iowa State strives to provide a quality education to every student, and financial resources are important to meeting that goal. Class sizes tend to get smaller during the second half of students’ degree programs, featuring increased levels of specialization, additional laboratory and experiential learning opportunities and, in many cases, more personalized interaction with faculty.

According to a recent Board of Regents report, the FY2015 undergraduate cost of instruction – which represents actual costs related to instruction, research, academic support, student services, and other items – was $12,682 for upper division students, compared to $9,008 for lower division students, a $3600 difference.

Charging the higher tuition rate also helps ensure that students in programs with lower instructional costs are not subsidizing the students who choose to major in higher cost programs.

What about students who earn college credit before they arrive at Iowa State?

Many students earn a substantial number of college credits in high school, but in some cases, not all of those credits may transfer to the their degree programs. However, students entering Iowa State directly from high school will pay the higher tuition rate no earlier than their seventh semester (number of semesters includes summer, and counts regardless of registration status), even if they have more than 60 credits due to credit earned in high school. (Tuition rates based on entrance into program are not included in this policy).

When students are charged higher tuition rates, how are those revenues used?

Iowa State programs that charge higher tuition rates use the added revenue to hire additional faculty, which lowers the university’s student-faculty ratio; maintain high-quality laboratory equipment and staff; and to expand high-impact experiential learning opportunities for students.

How do I appeal my tuition rate?

If a student feels they are not paying the appropriate tuition rate, they have the right to submit an appeal to their academic college, following the guidelines established by that college.

What is Iowa State doing to ease the financial burden on its students?

Iowa State takes the issue of affordability very seriously, and has launched a variety of programs and initiatives to help students manage and even lower their debt:

  • ISU has lead efforts to raise over $200M for student scholarships through his Moving Students Forward initiative – this effort has provided over 23,000 students with support since its inception
  • The average debt load for Iowa State graduates has declined 8.5% in the last three years (and 11% for resident students)
  • Iowa State opened a Office of Student Financial Success in 2014, providing one-on-one advising to help students understand budgeting, responsible borrowing, and how to “live like a student”

It is important to note that, even after fully implementing higher tuition for upper division and international students, Iowa State’s overall tuition levels remain low compared to our peers.