cost-of-collegeThe Cost of a Four-Year College Degree

According to the College Board, the average cost of college for an in-state public college for the 2012-2013 academic year was $22,261. The average cost of college at a private institution, on the other hand, was a staggering $43,289. That’s why considering the cost of college is an essential step in making an admissions decision—after all, just getting into college doesn’t mean you can afford to pay for it.

If you’re worried you can afford college, you’re not alone. Only 25% of American families can pay for college without financial assistance. If you aren’t one of them, the cost of college can be just as important as the school’s quality and should weigh on your decision process.

That said, knowing exactly how much a school will cost you can be difficult. Financial aid applications are confusing to decode, and financial aid award letters can be practically impossible to understand. To better understand the bottom line cost of college (since your cost may not be the same as the average cost of college), so that you can make an informed choice on what college you attend, we recommend the following:

Run a Financial Aid Estimator

Run a financial aid estimator to see approximately how much you’ll need to pay—in other words, determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The Expected Family Contribution is the amount a given school will expect you and your family to pay in order to attend.

Compare EFC to the Cost of Attendance

Compare this Estimated Family Contribution to the Cost of Attendance at your colleges of interest to judge if you might “demonstrate need” and therefore qualify for financial aid. In other words: if your Estimated Family Contribution is less than the Cost of Attendance, you do qualify for some form of aid. If your EFC is equal to or greater than the Cost of Attendance, you should plan to pay the college bill from your own resources or look into different forms of merit-based aid, such as grants or scholarships. If you cannot pay your tuition bills in full with your out-of-pocket resources, you should weigh your options and consider student and parent educational loans.

The Scholarship Center

You should educate yourself as a financial aid consumer and not let the process go on without your involvement or understanding. Doing so will help prevent disappointments or financial hardship, and could help you avoid getting admitted to your dream school only to discover you can’t afford it.

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