10/13/2016 10:48 am ET Updated Oct 14, 2017

The Real Cost of Attending College Is Higher Than You Think

What tips do you have for financially struggling students and would-be students? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of Higher Education Policy & Sociology at Temple University, author of Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream, on Quora.

Everyone, including financially struggling students and would-be students, needs to make their voices heard in the political process to ensure that making college affordable is a top priority. In addition, here are steps to take to make ends meet even when resources are scarce:

  1. Get real about the full costs of attending college. Read this piece and figure out what you're missing when you add up the numbers. Warning: the price is probably even higher than you might think. If you haven't yet committed to that expensive college, this is your chance to rethink it. The important thing is to know what you're in for.
  2. Look for ways to save money on food and housing. Co-ops are great, if you get along well with others. Be wary of living at home with your parents--if you are going to do this, get clear on their expectations for how you will contribute financially and in terms of your time helping others. If your financial aid package appears to assume you have no living expenses because you are living at home, go discuss this with the aid office and bring proof of your expenses.
  3. Make a plan for covering (a) the "Expected Family Contribution," (b) the difference between the institution's stated Cost of Attendance (everything, including living costs) and the amount of grant aid you are getting, and (c) the other costs not mentioned in the stated Cost of Attendance. Then make another plan. And then another one. You should have backups for your backups.
  4. If you plan to take out loans, look at how much you can get from the federal government, how much your parents can qualify for (if they can qualify for loans), and think about your willingness or stomach for private loans. When considering private loans, there are a number of dangers, including a lack of income-based repayment options and other protections. The interest rates may be lower, but that's not all that matters.
  5. If you plan to work, figure out where and then consider the commuting time, any wardrobe or other expenses, how many hours you'll actually get vs. how many you need, what time of day the hours are, the stability of the job across terms, and whether it requires you to be on "standby" for your shifts. While you're probably focused on the hourly wages, these things matter a ton. Working the graveyard shift thirty minutes from your home in order to earn more money will leave you too exhausted to do well in class. What's the point?
  6. Make sure that if you're allocated work-study funding in your financial aid package, you find that job ASAP and use that funding. It must be a priority.
  7. Apply for any and all social benefit programs that you might qualify for. College students usually have to work twenty hours a week to get food stamps, but if you are eligible for work-study, you might be able to get around that. Contact your Dean of Students, your financial aid office, your advisors, and anyone else who might possibly be able to help.

In addition to these ideas, I highly recommend the following resources:

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