The majority of your college costs will fall under the tuition and fees, or "sticker price" category, and most students will need a significant amount of financial aid to meet those costs. On average, you can expect to see tuition and fees hovering around $7,000 per year at a state college, and around $26,000 at a private college. Those numbers are only expected to go up as demand for a college education and enrollment numbers remain high.
Don't be too shocked by those figures, though. While it is true that there are a number of schools out there approaching the $50,000 per year mark when you factor room and board into those tuition and fees costs, it's also true that most (if not all) students attending those schools receive a decent amount of financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants, and student loans, to offset those high numbers. No family is expected to pay for all of their college costs out-of-pocket, and even most of the less expensive colleges will offer students a financial aid packagethey feel is reasonable and would entice that student to attend their school. There are billions of dollars worth of financial aid out there, so if you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the cost of college, remember there's free money out there.
The base tuition of a given college or university is typically significantly lower than what you'll end up paying for – or receiving financial aid to cover. And with the cost of tuition going up so far that some state legislatures have even placed limits on tuition increases, new or expanded fees may be where colleges will be looking to in terms of recouping some of those budget losses. Most schools now group tuition and fees as one when you're looking up schools' price tags during your college search, but there are some fees that may still come as a surprise to you, and after you're already enrolled.
What do these fees cover? It depends on the school. Activity fees are standard, and cover things like access to the school workout facilities, libraries, and student centers. Parking fees are standard on commuter campuses, although students may have the option of opting out of these if they will be using public transportation to travel to and from campus. Health fees cover students' visits to campus health centers, often with or without proof of health insurance. Some schools charge a "green" fee to cover rising energy costs or environmental adaptations on their campuses. Others have technology fees, to cover students' use of computer labs or new technologies used in classrooms, counseling fees, to cover students' use of career or other guidance services, and enrollment fees, just for registering for classes.
When it comes to fees, you're more likely than not expected to pay for them just as you would be expected to cover your tuition, whether through financial aid or out-of-pocket. But if those fees seem exorbitant, make sure you're not eligible for certain fee waivers. If you won't be parking on campus, for example, chances are you won't be expected to pay that parking fee. Talk to your financial aid administrator or other students on campus who have successfully navigated the fee waiver process to see if you could be saving some money.
The cost of a school doesn't necessarily mean that the school is better or worse than its less or more expensive counterparts. While many private colleges award generous financial aid packages to offset those costs and make them a more competitive option for applicants on the fence about covering private tuitions, there are other options out there for those students who are more flexible in their college searches.
Staying in-state, for example, could save you thousands of dollars, as state colleges and universities prioritize keeping tuition costs affordable for students who wish to stay in their state. If you're also planning on staying in state after college, there could be even more funding available in the form of career-specific grants and scholarships, especially if you're interested in a field of study that is in high demand in your state. So consider all of your options when you're deciding about which schools to apply to and eventually choosing the right college, because there could be that "diamond in the rough" college that not only fits all of your needs, but could be less of a financial burden than a more well-known school.
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