What does college really cost?

what does college really cost?The cost of college has been dramatized and distorted in recent years by the media: odds are, you’ve heard a story recently about new increases in tuition, or that five more colleges passed the $50,000 mark. Most of the media’s attention focuses on a select amount of elite, highly expensive schools,which are not always where most college-bound students head. Not every school in the country now costs $50,000 or more to attend, but prices across the board are increasing. For parents, if you haven’t seen a tuition bill in awhile, you may be in for a bit of tuition shock.

That being said, you have to consider the benefits of higher education. The College Board reports that typical college graduates earn up to 60% more over the course of their lives compared to those with only a high school diploma. Apart from the financial benefits, there are personal benefits as well. Individuals with college educations are proven to be healthier, exercise more and smoke less. In addition, the College Board study found that society benefits more from a population with a postsecondary education; metropolitan areas with higher overall education levels have displayed higher voter turnouts, lower unemployment rates, and even a lift in wages of workers with lower education levels. The benefits are multifarious, and decidedly worth the large cost of college attendance.

These numbers help to get a sense of the college costs you’ll be facing, but they are by no means specific. The total cost of attending college is a very individualized and variable figure, as there are many items that add to the cost, and still others that reduce the cost. Different schools have different tuitions, housing plans,meal plans, textbook costs, and different fees, so the cost of college varies depending on what school you attend. All of these factors add up to the complete sticker price, and then there are a number of other factors – your financial aid award, scholarships, and a part-time or work-study job – that thankfully lower that number to the real price paid by a family.

Start your math by finding each of your prospective schools’ published expenses for tuition and fees, as well as room and board. Search on each schools’ website or look around the Financial Aid office’s website. Look for an itemization of the incidental costs, and apply your own judgment to the school’s estimates.

Most college guidebooks include tuition and fees and room and board totaled separately, while some add it all up. Try to find the itemized accounting, and add up the numbers yourself, while including any costs you think you’ll personally incur. See what academic year the costs listed are for; if it is the current year, add 5% as a reasonable expectation of next year’s cost. If you’re really ambitious, go ahead and run a four year calculation, increasing the cost by 5% or so each year. Given the highly variable nature of college costs, these calculations are about as close as you can get to determining the actual cost of college.

* Source: The College Board Trends in College Pricing, 2009.

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Understanding College Costs