Paying for College

Ongoing College Costs

Now that most high school seniors have graduated and settled their higher education plans for fall, they and their parents turn to face the next set of hurdles: Paying for college. What kinds of expenses can families expect whenever a son or daughter goes off to college?

As you no doubt know, the cost of college tuition and room and board can be very high. The most expensive colleges and universities in the United States cost well over $50,000 per year. Others, such as smaller private colleges and state universities can be much more affordable, costing a third (or less) as much as the most expensive schools. A lot of parents focus on just the tuition and room and board charges, feeling that if they can squeeze out some financial aid and make a heroic effort to make up the difference, then all will be cool. There are other factors to consider.

Take travel expenses, for example. The average college student comes home at Thanksgiving, Christmas, maybe spring break, and possibly visits once or twice over intersession breaks. Now that's not a big deal if the student lives within an hour or two from home and has a hometown commuter connection to defray travel costs. A lot of college students, however, live five hours or more by car from home. Some are so far away that the only way to get home is by air or train. Travel expenses can add a significant number to the student budget.

And how about those books? The days of the $29.95 hardcover textbook are gone forever. Today it is not uncommon for a math or science book to cost $100 or more. If you haven't been in touch with college textbook prices lately, do yourself a favor and visit your local college campus bookstore. You'll be shocked. The big hits affect engineering majors and students with literature courses. A $800 bill for one semester's worth of books is not all that rare. Remember, books are purchased twice a year at schools on the semester system. And those bookstore bills always seem to arrive just when you need to get new brakes on the car.

Don't forget the fees: student activity fees, campus computer network fees, student government fees, room security fees, and a host of other fees depending on the college or university. Add to that the monthly long-distance telephone charges, occasional road trip expenses, and that emergency book bag purchase because someone stole the old one, and you can begin to see why looking at just tuition and room and board charges just doesn't cut it.

Don't despair. There is always a way to deal with these costs--financial aid, summer work savings, on-campus jobs, or whatever. It's better to be aware of these add-ons going into the college experience, though, rather than being blindsided by them after it's too late.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.