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College 101

The Real Costs of College
Article Type: Quick and Dirty

Higher education is really, really expensive. You've heard the stories. On some school websites, they will actually break down and calculate your undergraduate budget—probably in an attempt to convince you that hey, tuition and fees are only X amount. That's, like, nothing. It's really all this stuff you would be paying for anyway that makes it all so expensive.

It's true, Shmooper: Every adult has to pay for housing and food, and every student has to pay for school supplies. Duh. What are students complaining about? Welcome to the real world, right?

Heh. Right...

Whether you agree that students should have to pay for housing and food while they're in school is another story (we're looking at you, Europe). The more immediate problem here is that the price for non-tuition-related stuff is ridiculously hiked up for college students.

Here are some really expensive things that a typical college students needs, but can't usually afford even with the help of their families:

  • Housing. Housing on campus is usually way more expensive than off campus. Why? Convenience.
  • Books, which can easily and stupidly cost thousands of dollars a year
  • A reliable computer that will last all four years of college
  • Food. Do the math. Dining hall food costs way more than it's worth. Again, convenience.
  • Health insurance, if you're not covered by your parents. Some schools have campus insurance, which you can only waive if you can prove that you already have it—and it's good enough.
  • Money for class fees. There are classes (especially art classes) that require additional fees to pay for the use of equipment, supplies, etc.

And those are just the basics…basics that can cost up to $15,000 or more a year on top of tuition. Ouch.

Also, keep in mind that convenience costs money. As a college student, this convenience helps you focus on school. Not that it's impossible—just more difficult. 

The solution? Do your research. Know what you can afford, and know how much extreme budgeting you can deal with. Check out the following articles for some help on your search:

Private vs. Public vs. Community College Costs
Is a Top College Worth Your Ca$h?
What's a "Good School," Anyway?

Maybe you're one of the lucky ones with a full ride to your dream school. Maybe you'll be attending a school that gifted you with a decent scholarship package, and the remaining cost of your tuition is minimal, and your parents have offered to pay the tab.

And maybe you're rowing up Poop Creek without a paddle.

The cost of a college education is one of the biggest factors you have to consider when deciding where to go to school. That's just the way it is. But before you strike your dream school off the list as too expensive, there are a couple of things you need to look into.

1. What is the price tag on your dream school? "Too expensive" is not a number. You need a number if you're gonna play this game.

Got the information? Good.

2. What kind of financial aid can you pull together to cover the cost of going to your dream school?

Now, you may discover, as you wade through all of the financial aid info out there, that your dream school really is too expensive; that you don't want to come out of college owing $60,000 (or more) in student loans; that there's another school with a sound program in your field of study that will endow you with a decent education and even a scholarship or three.

Of course, you may also find a way to afford the college of your choice. We don't recommend selling any organs on the Black Market, though. You will miss your bladder.

Whatever post-secondary path you end up taking, financing your education can often require as much work as it takes to get into college in the first place. We can't do the heavy lifting for you, but we can give you some pointers.

P.S. Check out what we have to say about budgeting to help you get a handle on everything.

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