Breaking Down the Cost of College
Tips on how to save and budget for higher education
Author: Catherine Van Weele
Published: Tuesday, 07 Sep 2021
Image caption: College cost breakdown
A college education is incredibly valuable. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of college graduates is $64,124 compared to the average salary of $38,792 for individuals with a high school diploma. Not only can higher education lead to higher earning potential in the future, but the unemployment rate is lower for people with higher education levels. College is additionally a wonderful way to build connections and network with others in your field. Attending college can be highly advantageous, however, it comes with a huge price tag.
According to a 2021 College Board report, the average cost of attending a public school as an in-state student is $26,830 and costs $43,280 for out-of-state students. Private schools have an average total cost of $54,880. It is important to note that these prices are just averages. The cost of college for each individual student varies greatly and is influenced by a range of factors.
In celebration of College Savings Month, we’ll breakdown the cost of college and give some tips on how to save up.
How much will college cost me?
There are multiple components that contribute the total cost of college, particularly whether you attend a private or public school and whether you live on campus or at home. There are five main categories that make up the total cost of college: tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and personal expenses.
Tuition & Fees:
The tuition is the cost of the courses offered by the university. Public school tuition for in-state students is typically the most affordable option. According to USA News, the average cost of tuition in the United States for in-state public school students is $9,687. Out-of-state students at public schools will be charged a higher tuition rate than in-state students with an average cost of $21,184. Private schools have an average tuition cost of $35,087.
Fees are extra costs students are charged for that go towards facilities and resources. Fees are often mandatory, although occasionally you may be able to waive certain fees. Common types of college fees include library access fees, orientation fees, technology fees, and wellness facility fees. The total amount of fees is different for each school and can change from year to year.
Room & Board:
Living at home with parents is the most affordable option, but that is not an option for everyone. If you choose to move too far away to commute to campus or choose to move out of your parents' house, you will need to find housing on- or off-campus.
Many colleges mandate freshman to live on-campus in dormitories. The cost of housing varies depending on what college you attend and which type of plan you select. They offer plans with different pricing depending on factors such as how many roommates you will have, the quality of the residential hall, and the type of meal plan selected.
Books & supplies:
Most courses will require you to obtain extra materials such as textbooks. Purchasing a textbook can be expensive. Many students will choose to rent their textbooks through their school library or third-party services which is typically cheaper than buying a textbook outright. Other supplies students should consider include notebooks, writing utensils, and printing services.
Students will have to factor in the costs of driving or flying to campus, as well as any trips back home over breaks. While at school, students will need to evaluate the cost of gas and car maintenance, ride sharing apps, or public transit if they wish to visit other areas off-campus. Students parking on campus will likely need to pay for a parking pass each semester or school year. Transporation costs vary depending on the mode of transportation and the location.
Personal expenses entail any other costs you will incur during your time at college from clothes to phone bills, to laundry, to eating out. It is easy to underestimate these costs prior to attending college, but once you are there you will realize you will want to spend money. Be sure to budget for these costs in advance.
How do I pay for college?
Get a part-time job while in high school and save a portion of each paycheck for college. Put that money into high-yield savings accounts where it will grow with interest. A part-time job won’t pay for college completely, but it can potentially cover a good portion of the total cost.
If it is manageable to balance work, school, and other responsibilities, consider continuing part-time work while in college. Most schools offer on-campus jobs for students with flexible hours to accommodate for college course schedules.
It is highly recommended for all students to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), even if they don’t think they qualify for aid. While you may not receive money from the federal government, you could still be eligible for grants, work-study programs, or school and state aid.
Loans are offered through the government and private organizations. Loans must be paid back in full as well as the interest that accrues. Students should take out federal government loans first. It is advised to take out private loans only if necessary because private loans often have higher interest rates. Shop around and price check multiple private loan companies before making any final decisions.
Scholarships & Grants:
Students can apply for scholarships and grants, which is money that does not have to be paid back. Some schools will offer scholarships simply based off academic performance in high school. In most cases, you will have to fill out an application and possibly write an essay on the provided prompt. There are many organizations locally and nationally that offer scholarships as well.
Final words of advice
College is a major investment. The huge costs can be intimidating, but it can be manageable as long as you plan ahead and consider all the costs involved with attending a higher education institution. Every student and family will have different circumstances and financial needs, so no one plan for paying for college will look the same.
Talk to a counselor at your high school and the college you hope to attend. They can help you navigate paying for college and direct you to resources that could be of interest to you. Conduct your own research online to calculate your personal costs for college and to find other resources that may be of value.