When it comes to the cost of college, many parents and students consider only what they will pay for tuition. The listed tuition price is often the price that is considered the most important; it is usually the highest single cost.
However, it is important to look at more than just tuition costs when making a plan to pay the college education bill. There are numerous other expenses involved with attending college, and in some cases those costs can add up to rival the cost of tuition at the more moderately-priced schools.
What Costs Come with College?
Your first task is to determine how much college will cost by having an understanding of some of the terms used to describe higher education costs. Here are some of the terms to watch out for:
- Tuition: This is how much it costs to attend college. Tuition might be listed as a price you pay semester, as a full-time student, or it might be expressed as a per-credit cost.
- Fees: These are add-ons that are mandatory for students to pay each year, or each term. Some courses come with additional fees attached, and all students usually have to pay athletic fees and academic fees, on top of tuition. Double check the fees so you have a good idea of what you’ll actually be paying.
- Direct costs: At some universities, you pay direct costs to the university. This can include the cost of meal plans, and housing. Find out the requirements at the university. In some cases, students are required to live on campus freshman year, and buy a meal plan.
- Indirect costs: These are costs of going to college, but they aren’t paid directly to the school. Some of these costs include transportation, books, food, off-campus housing, laundry, and other expenses that often crop up.
The good news is that federal law requires schools to disclose an estimate of how much it costs to attend school. This includes an estimate of living expenses as well as tuition and fees. The bad news is that many schools obey this law by not providing the information in a way that is readily accessible. You might have to hunt for it, or even call the school and ask for the information. In any case, do your best to estimate the total yearly cost of attendance, and don’t rely only on tuition figures.
Paying for College
Having an idea of how much college will cost can be helpful, but you also need to factor in inflation. Tuition rises at a faster pace than inflation. One rule of thumb is to factor in a 8% yearly increase to tuition. And remember that other costs, such as food and transportation, are also subject to inflation. Once you have done that, you can start looking for options to help you pay for college, including:
- College savings plans (529s, Coverdells, etc.)
- Student loans
You really do need some sort of plan if you want to afford the rising cost of tuition and other expenses. And that starts with understanding just what you’ll be paying for.
(Photo: Sean MacEntee )