05/07/2013 05:28 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2013

So How Much Will It Cost to Send Your Child to College This Year?

Across the country many parents are experiencing a variety of emotions. They are watching with pride as their child graduates from high school and goes on to the next phase of life, but they are also breaking out in a cold sweat as they try to determine just how much having a child in college is going to cost. Even experienced parents who have been through the college process before are trying to figure out the sequester's effects on financial aid, but for those parents who are sending their first child to college, the process can be overwhelming.

According to a Gallup survey of more than 3,000 adults conducted in September and October of 2012, 68 percent responded that they are somewhat likely or very likely to restrict their child's choice of schools based on tuition alone. The students also take a similar view and may very well miss out on attending some excellent schools. Tuition is not the only factor in the cost of college. Parents and students also need to consider financial aid, scholarships, grants, and work-study jobs to come up with a more precise cost of attendance.

The federal financial aid process starts with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Although this might appear to be a complicated form at first glance the Federal Student Aid website offers a great deal of insights and suggestions, as well as contact information. Many states also use the FAFSA to calculate their financial aid awards. Most states also have at least one financial aid or grant program available to residents. Private, corporate or civic scholarships can help reduce the amount due even more.

Most of this information is summarized in the financial aid award letter, but this has also proven to be a point of confusion. In response, various organizations are trying to develop a "shopping sheet" that will standardize information and allow for easier comparison. Three templates for these shopping sheets have been developed so far -- one by The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, one by the Education Department, and another that is a combination of the two.

Any money still outstanding will need to be raised through work-study programs, student loans or out-of-pocket payments from savings of 529 accounts. Unfortunately many prospective college students and their parents remain woefully uninformed about student loan debt, especially when it comes to rates and repayment information. Further confusion is added by the government's inability to agree on interest rates for these loans.

Feeling Better Yet?

If this all still seems too complicated for you to figure out on your own, the financial aid office at the college should be able to help or you can talk to a professional college financial aid advisor. These are unbiased professionals whose only job is to help your family make the best choice for your child's college education. He or she can help with everything from the application process to completing the FAFSA, interpreting the financial aid award letters, negotiating with colleges, and searching for scholarships.

If may be hard but it is not impossible to determine how much it will cost to send your child to college. The most important point is not to make any assumptions ahead of time about what schools your child might be able to attend based only on tuition costs. Do your research and work with professionals who know the industry, and you might be surprised to find out that the college of your child's dreams is more reasonable than you thought.