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College Costs

When you’re conducting your college search, it’s only natural that your eyes will be drawn to some very large numbers (though they may be printed in a tiny font) amid all of the literature on schools you’re perusing. The costs associated with attending college can be huge, and they go well beyond tuition. With the average cost of college creeping towards $20,000 at public colleges and topping $50,000 at an increasing number of private colleges, many families are left wondering just what they’re paying for, in addition to how to pay for it.

To help you get an idea of what to expect when it comes to college costs, we’ve come up with a breakdown below. You can also use our college calculators to help plan for the expenses you might face.

Tuition and Fees

At most colleges, tuition will be the largest expense to contend with, and if current trends continue, it will only get larger each year. Student fees, such as technology fees, athletic fees, and student services fees will also be included in your tuition statement. Many of these fees are mandatory, regardless of whether a student uses the services they cover. Tuition and fees have been rising at an average of 6 percent a year, though some years the rise is faster or slower. While private colleges have higher tuition rates on average, they tend to be more insulated from rapid increases in student fees than state colleges, which are at the mercy of state budgets.

Room and Board

Tuition isn’t the only college cost that can be tough to handle. The cost of room and board could vary significantly based on the school you attend, and the kind of housing option you decide on, or are assigned to. Single rooms and on-campus apartments will likely be the most expensive options, while a triple room in an older dorm with a community bathroom may cost substantially less. Some colleges will place restrictions on where their students live, especially their freshman year. But chances are that if you lobby for your case, there may be some flexibility on this point.

Books and Supplies

With individual book prices of well over $100 in many cases, textbook costs can easily add up. Depending on your major and flexibility when paying for books (some of those books may be available at no cost at the library, for example), you could be paying $500 or more on textbooks. It’s important then to know there are other options available, such as buying books used or taking advantage of the new book rental agencies cropping up. Explore those alternatives, because we know paying full price for a book you may never use again is nobody’s first option.

College Living Expenses

An 18-year-old who’s been living at home and using an after-school job for fun money (if he or she has one at all) is unlikely to realize just how much it takes to stay alive and maintain the standard of living to which he or she is accustomed. Even the parent who’s been footing the bills can be surprised at how quickly the costs associated with a freshman’s newfound independence can add up. Many of these miscellaneous expenses might be expenses that a student can cover with a campus job, especially working 10-20 hours a week, but be prepared that there will be situations for which an emergency fund would be a good idea.

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