It isn’t news that college costs more than it used to. The cost of attaining a degree in the US has tripled over the past 30 years, and don’t appear to be slowing down.
According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2017-2018 school year was $32,410 at private four-year colleges, $23,890 for out-of-state students at public four-year colleges, and $9,410 for in-state students at public four-year colleges. But what goes into the price of a college degree, and how can you minimize your costs?
Why is College So Expensive?
If you think of a college campus as a small city, it makes a lot more sense why it costs a lot to keep running. Tuition only tells part of the story when it comes to paying for college. Before you get your heart set on a school, be sure you have added up all the expenses you can expect when enrolled.
This is the sticker price for enrollment. Some schools offer a price lock for the first four years that you are enrolled. If your school doesn’t offer this, don’t expect the price of tuition to go down over time.
Room and board
If you will be living on-campus, this is mainly made up of your meal plan and dorm costs. Otherwise, it is the cost of off-campus living. In some areas, there will be a clear cost-effective choice, or there may be only one of these options. Confirm if your school requires students to live on-campus at any time. And then the price of dorms can vary dramatically, based on the location, building age, roommate options, etc.
Books and supplies
Textbooks can vary wildly in cost and can be hard to budget for. If you take a lab course, art class, or another class that requires additional supplies to complete the coursework be sure to factor that in as well. Some teachers are sympathetic to these expenses and can help students out by using textbooks that are a few years out of date, so you can buy used books.
Transportation isn’t just the price of getting to college and then home for holidays or end of the term. It includes getting around the campus between classes or on the weekends. Some campuses will include bus systems to help you get around, or include transit cards as a part of your semester fees.
How to Make College Affordable
According to the Department of Education, the number of students projected to attend US universities and colleges in fall 2018 was 19.9 million, which is actually lower than the enrollment peak of 21.0 million in fall 2010.
The cost of getting a degree could play into this drop, but there are still many people who think the price is worth it. So how can you make a college education more affordable?
Save for college early in a 529 plan
If you are a parent planning for your child’s college education, look into the benefits of a 529 savings plan. According to the IRS, the main advantage of a 529 plan is that “earnings are not subject to federal tax and generally not subject to state tax when used for the qualified education expenses of the designated beneficiary.” Currently, only 29% of Americans saving for college utilize a tax advantage plan, and 45% are pulling from their ordinary bank accounts.
Choose an affordable college
Review the financial aid office website of each school you are considering to find a cost of attendance calculator or guideline, and consider the cost vs value of each school. It might also be an option to study at a community college, or a local public college, to complete your general education requirements before transferring to complete your degree-specific classes. You will still have that school’s name on your diploma, but you didn’t have to pay the sticker price.
Lower your cost of living
If you select a school near your home, consider living at home to avoid paying for a dorm or meal plan. This doesn’t have to be your plan for every year, but can be an extremely effective way to save for your tuition.
File FAFSA to qualify for federal aid
Even if you don’t think you will receive any aid, the time it takes to complete the FAFSA is worth it to find out. You will also need to fill out the FAFSA for any federal loans and some schools use it for their own scholarship applications.
Apply for scholarships
Scholarships and grants are funds that you don’t have to pay back, so make sure to explore all of your options. A great place to start is your school’s financial aid office, which will have a list of scholarships offered to students. Start on this process early to ensure you have enough time and submit your applications on time.
Use federal loan options first
Your completed FAFSA will inform what loans you can take out with the federal government. Federal loans offer the lowest rates available to borrowers. Be sure to only take out what you need for your education, as you will pay interest on any loan amount you take out.
Borrow private student loans
If federal loans aren’t going to cover your total education expenses, private student loans are the next step to close the gap for education costs. Unlike federal loans, you will have a number of providers for private loans and private student loan eligibility requirements, interest rates, terms, and options vary by lender, loan program, and promissory note. Review the fees, interest rates, terms, options, and cosigner requirements for each loan before making your decision.
This article was written by Carolyn Pairitz Morris, Senior Editor at Earnest.