So, what will college ultimately cost? You must make yourself aware of even the smallest expenditures (which, when combined, make for one very large expenditure) in order to begin budgeting. Hopefully, this blog will leave you well informed, well prepared to budget in advance, and equipped with some solutions to decrease the costs of college.
What do you need to think of beyond tuition, room and board? Consider the cost of books, the cost of traveling between school and home, the cost of extra spending money. The incidentals add up. But what most people fail to consider in their overall college budget is the cost of APPLYING to college! This all begins with the cost of taking standardized tests: $45 to take an SAT Reasoning Test, $44.50 for an ACT with Writing, $84 for each AP exam, and $29 for each SAT Subject Test ($40 for the SAT Language Test.) Factor in the fact that students take these tests multiple times and the dollars being add up.
Besides taking the tests, students have to prepare for the tests. They may buy one or more books at about $40/each. Most likely, they will get some kind of test preparation by one of the big test prep companies. Online SAT prep ranges from about $399-$699. Offline courses are close to $1000. Of course, private tutors can cost anywhere from $25/hour to $900/hour! Not to mention the cost of road tripping from one school to the next (gas prices continue to rise weekly), and don't forget hotel stays and meals.
Even applying to colleges has its price. Application fees range from about $35-$75 each. And when you are applying to more than 8 colleges (I recommend 8-12, given the increasing competition), these fees are no longer incidental! Finally, if you are lucky enough to gain admission to many of the colleges you applied to, there may be yet another road (or plane) trip to help solidify final decisions.
Overwhelming? I know. I encourage my readers to start planning this budget early on in high school, before your child prepares for standardized tests. At www.applywise.com we have an applying-to-college budget calculator for free, so check it out.
Rising prices are all the more reason to research your potential target schools thoroughly. There are still many affordable options for students. Finding the right college - socially and academically - is the most important thing. College is an investment that pays for itself over time. The College Board found that people with a bachelor's degree earn 60% more than those with only a high school diploma. Over a lifetime, this could total more than $800,000. Still, that doesn't change the fact that the increasingly outrageous cost of college is putting a strain on that pesky parental impulse to give one's child "the very best." Thankfully, the "very best" is a subjective term that does not necessarily mean the "most expensive." Above all - a student should find a school that's the right fit, because it is only then that they will get the most out of this great investment.
Once accepted to a college, consult the financial aid office right away, and if your family's financial situation has changed, ask them if they can offer you additional help, work study or other loan options. Financial aid officers do their best to keep up with current legislation to ensure that they have the tools to help students enroll and graduate in a timely fashion.
And, although there is a lot of buzz about banks not being able to provide student loans, the reality is that many full time students seeking a degree at a four year institution should be able to get a student or parent loan, as long as their parents have solid credit. Education loans, especially those from the Federal Government, are still smart mechanisms to help pay for college. Congress has taken steps to implement contingency plans to ensure that students and parents have access to college financing.
If all else fails, there are also websites, such as fastweb.org and finaid.org, that list scholarships. Help is out there but you've got to have the wherewithal to access this help. And have a back up plan! For example, you could put together a plan that would enable your child to graduate in 3 years--saving you about 25%! A student can do this by applying credits earned through high school AP courses, or attending a less expensive college over the summer and then transferring these credits to graduate in 3 years. Also look at ways for your child to save money on campus, such as low-cost meal plans (will Sammy get up for breakfast everyday?), alternative housing, or used book options (try dogears.com). If the cost of the right college is truly insurmountable, consider having your child defer enrollment for one year, during which time she can live at home and work to save money towards her education the next year.
Colleges realize that, once admitted, the cost of college is the biggest issue for students and families. Rest assured that they are working on finding solutions that address the financial challenges of attending university. Still, you have to do your part and hopefully now you're more equipped to do so.
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