Cost of attendance, i.e. What is college really going to cost?

cost of attendanceWhat 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).

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