Cost of attendance, i.e. What is college really going to cost?
What is college really going to cost? That’s a question on the minds of lots of students and (especially) parents. It is sometimes hard to get a sense for the total cost because there are so many components that add up to the fully-loaded sticker price, and then there are a bunch of factors (scholarships, discounts, work study, etc.) that – thankfully – lower that number to the real price paid.
Since Halloween is approaching, I’m going to use this post to help you figure out the scarier of those two numbers: the fully-loaded sticker price….
Start your calculus by finding each prospective school’s published expenses for Tuition & Fees and Room & Board. Try searching on the school’s website on or look around the Financial Aid Office’s website. Also, look for an itemization of the institution’s estimates of incidental costs (and apply your own judgment to their estimates).
- Some schools list average travel costs that might not consider how far you really have to go, or how often you will go home. A student who can bum a ride with a friend and chip in $50 for gas certainly will pay less for one trip than the one from Hawaii who goes to school on the mainland. Then again, if you drive home every weekend, the gas and tolls can add up!
- Speaking of driving, having a car on campus is very expensive. Gas, maintenance, and insurance are just some of the added costs. Many schools with parking restrictions don’t allow freshmen to have a car at all. I don’t know a college student with a car who didn’t get a parking ticket or two – and if you go to school in a place with a premium on parking, you might also have to pay for a permit or garage fees. Check out the public transportation and shuttle buses for when walking isn’t feasible. Riding a bike around campus is a great way to save money and even stay in shape (just make sure to invest in a helmet and a light)!
- Carefully consider your meal plan options. Some meal plans force you to use the balance before the end of each year or semester while others are more flexible. It’s hard to know how often you’ll hit the campus cafeteria before you get there, but know that even if you live in a dorm, you will likely have access to a kitchen where you could prepare your own, inexpensive meals.
- Personal expenses also add up. Budget for things like medication, laundry, haircuts, clothing, and phone bills.
- Don’t forget to budget a little for having some fun. Extra-curricular activities and sports aren’t always free – consider the cost of fees or dues, athletic equipment, uniforms,travel, or tickets for performances.
Most college guide books include line items for Tuition & Fees and Room & Board; some will add it all up. Try to find the itemized accounting, and add up the numbers yourself. The sum is the fully-loaded sticker price. Check the academic year for which the data is provided – if it’s this year’s number, add 5% as a reasonable expectation of next year’s cost. If you’re really in Halloween mode, go ahead and run a four year calculation, increasing the cost by 5% or so each year.
That’s the “trick.” Don’t despair, it won’t be that ugly. As we get closer to Thanksgiving we’ll serve up the “treat” of analyzing how discounts, scholarships, and the like will soften that cost. In the meantime, maybe your neighbor is giving out $100,000 bars for Halloween. If it were real money, you could grab one or two for each kid and be home free!
Understanding College Costs
- College Finances Home
- Breaking down college costs by semester
- College Costs and the Recession
- College Decision-Making and Financial Considerations
- Creating a personal budget
- Deciding on a College and the Importance of Cost
- Difficult Times for College Families
- EFC stands for¦? Know your acronyms.
- Paying for College: The Deer-in-the-Headlights, Head-in-the-Sand Approach
- Reviewing the Finances of a College Education
- The biggest student financial fear? Having to pay it all back.
- The Killer Cost of Textbooks, and Ways to Survive
- The second year costs
- The Summer Job Search
- What college costs should I consider outside of the COA?
- What Does College Really Cost?
- When Mother Nature Changes Your Finances