If you thought your iPod, your class ring or your ride were pricey, brace yourself, babe. The College Board reports that the average cost of tuition, fees, room, and board at a four-year in-state public college is nearly $20,000 per year. The situation gets worse for students attending private colleges where the average cost of attendance is just over $39,000 per year. The icing on the financial-doom-and-gloom cake is that these numbers are just a starting point. College costs increase, on average, about 8 percent each year, meaning that the price you will pay for your last year in college will probably be significantly higher than the one you paid during your freshman year. Overall, attending just one year of college can easily cost more than the down payment your parents put down on a house. Are you thoroughly bummed? Do not jump off a bridge just yet.
The good news is that averages do not mean a lot in this game. Like spies, college price tags are oftentimes not what they appear to be. Thanks to financial aid, students frequently don't pay the full sticker price, though many students unfortunately rule out their dream school believing it is too expensive. Here is what is included in your college costs and how to figure out what you'll actually pay:
When schools publish a big scary "cost of attendance" each year, here is what it includes:
Tuition - Tuition pays your professors' salaries and provides funds for a place to learn.
Fees - Fees cover the cost of on-campus amenities like the library, student research centers, your school's gym, bookstore, the health center...basically any resource the school provides.
Room and Board - Your dorm may be small and riddled with a perma-stench no amount of Febreeze can take down, but it still costs money. Board includes the cost of on-campus meal plans, utilities, telephone, internet, dorm programming, and activities.
Books and Supplies - Now that you are buying your own textbooks and paper, get ready to pony up. The College Board reports that the average cost of books and supplies is $1,137 per year.
Personal Expenses - Your entertainment and party budget may or may not be included in your college's cost of attendance. Plan on having a little pocket money set aside for the occasional night on the town.
And here is what is not included:
Transportation - If you want to head into town or go home every once in a while, it will cost you.
Your Laptop - Many schools require that students have a computer when they head off to school, but few build it into their cost of attendance. If you do not already have a computer, plan on paying an additional $700-$1,200 to get one. Apple has great deals for college students.
Club Dues - Whether you are competing for Greek letters or the intramural b-ball championship, student clubs cost money to join. Club dues range from free for small on-campus groups to an upwards of $1,000 a year for certain fraternities and sororities. Choose frugally, young grasshopper.
Add all of that together and you'll have a bill more tragic than Charlie Sheen's career. So what can you do about it? The best thing students can do is not believe the hype.