Comparison Shopping: A Look At REAL College Costs vs. “Sticker Shock…” How Much Will You Actually Pay


College Tuition Sticker Shock Twin Cities MN
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As another school year begins, it is a good time to focus on the realities of the costs surrounding a college future for your high school student.

There are so many different elements that go into the overall costs of higher education these days that it can be a dizzying task just to make a list, let alone to understand the ins and outs of each potential cost.

It can be very easy for the family of a college-bound student to immediately rule a college or university “out” – or “in” – based solely on the sticker price associated with that particular institution. However, while many (unfortunately, perhaps even most) families make their decisions thusly, this is an absolutely huge mistake. The sticker price, the posted price of a school can have almost nothing to do with the amount that a freshman student will actually pay to attend that institution, if the family knows how to approach the application and financial aid process, which hidden costs may apply, and what types of special considerations can affect the overall bill at any particular school.

You may be familiar with the old saying that “only a fool goes into a car dealership and pays the sticker price for a vehicle.” Well, let us assure you here and now that the same type of wisdom applies to college admission and college funding!

In this month’s newsletter we focus on some of the “hidden” costs of attending a college or university, as well as some of the elements that can save a student substantial amounts of money compared to the posted cost of a program at his or her school of choice. This is crucial information to look at now, no matter what age your college-bound child might be, so that you can plan effectively for the costs before he or she student finishes high school and moves on to the next level of education!


What Goes Into The Sticker Price For College?

Data recently emerged regarding costs for college and it stated that an “average” college cost for an in-state school can run approximately $24,000 (with substantial wiggle-room based on the state itself, not to mention the resident status of your family in that state). If your child decided to attend an “average” private school, s/he can expect to spend approximately $47,000. But, what exactly goes into these sticker prices? And can you actually expect to pay those numbers out-of-pocket?


Tuition is just one of the fees charged for college. It is also almost always by far the largest. It is what the college will charge for the actual instruction of the students. Tuition can be assessed by quarter or by semester, depending on the program. If you are a resident of a particular state and send your child to a university or college in that state, chances are that the tuition will be much lower than in another state (unless your state has a special agreement with another state to charge in-state tuition rates). If your child decides to attend public college or university outside of his or her home state, you may be surprised to learn that tuition can be as much as twice the price for out-of-state applicants… or even more for professional schools.

Tuition can also vary according to major. If your child decides to major in any of the sciences or pre-med programs, you can expect to be charged more for tuition. Engineering and computer science programs often cost more, as well. Some schools charge as much as $5,000 more for tuition for the year if enrolled in one of these programs due to lab costs, fees, and other costs that are inherent to hands-on and laboratory-based learning.

Additional Costs

Colleges and universities can charge a variety of fees. These can range from on-campus transportation to the library to using the athletic facilities. If it is unclear, you may want to ask the college for a breakdown of these additional fees so you know exactly what you are paying for. Even that breakdown may not be extremely clear, as such fees as “Activity Fee” can crop into the bill each term, as well.

These fees, however, may be lumped in with the tuition at some schools. Just look carefully to see exactly what fees are associated with the tuition and with fees are going towards use of the campus at various levels.

Room and Board

Room and board costs vary from school to school. The “board” portion of the costs will also vary depending on what your child chooses for meal plans. “Room” will also vary in cost because this depends on what sort of housing arrangements your child will opt for. Some schools have quite a range of what’s available to students. These can usually fit the needs and budgets of the students coming in. If your child chooses to live off campus, colleges can often provide an estimate as to how much that may cost according to average rental prices in the area.

However, the reality of room and board for students living off campus (and even on campus, if he or she does not manage money well) can range from quite reasonable to a complete financial disaster. This is one part of the bill for college that must be budgeted appropriately from the get-go to avoid a potential problem down the line.

Supplies and Books

Each school will have books that students need to buy and additional supplies depending on the major. These costs vary, of course, from school to school. However, a general cost provided recently estimates that for public colleges, costs are approximately $1,200 and at private colleges they are around $1,300. That is, as you can see, not a big difference. However, the costs of books have been increasing dramatically and it can be worthwhile to consider looking off-campus for used texts or even “renting” expensive books, in some cases.

To Car or Not to Car… and Other Stuff

Transportation is something every student has to take into consideration – especially if they are going to school in a big city and the campus is not just a few blocks away. Colleges often provide an estimate of what these costs are, but this is not a specific “college cost” and students will not usually receive a bill from the institution itself.

The estimates can include the costs for local transport, entertainment, clothing, etc. This estimate can range widely because each student has different needs and different proclivities for activities. If you have an avid movie buff, that student may be spending loads at the cinema, for example.

Other Ways To Save

Many people may not be aware of the different things you can include on an application that will make it possible for your child to pay less for college. For example, if your child attends your alma mater, he or she may be eligible for a discount. If he or she is an older student, or a military veteran, some colleges will provide discounts for that. If there is a sibling attending the school, discounts may apply. Being active in high school affairs (in the newspaper staff, or government, etc.) may also pay dividends in college, as sometimes discounts may provided to student government officers or editors of the college newspaper or yearbook. If your child has any inclination to serve in his or her school in this capacity, encourage it! It may be a major benefit down the road.

Don’t Be Shocked By The Sticker Price

The sticker price can be a shock to many students and parents. It does not, however, usually reflect what is actually paid by the student. Getting the financial aid business taken care of as soon as possible will give you a clearer picture of what you might expect to pay for a college education. Many private schools with extremely high sticker prices can actually end up being less expensive to attend for well-prepared students than a less-prestigious public school, it really all depends on a rigorous comparison of the related details.

There are also different tools that you can use to help you get a good idea of what you may end up paying. These are net price calculators and college cost calculators.

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