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Understanding what you actually will end up paying for college can be one of the more puzzling and challenging portions of picking a school. There are many important factors for choosing a school; the academics, the school’s reputation, the location and the atmosphere. It’s fun to think about possibilities and to picture yourself at certain schools. The fun often goes away when the topic of money comes up. It can be a difficult conversation between parents and students, and it can be an awkward and confusing conversation to have with school admissions people.

Determining the True Cost of attendance:

The first step to looking at any college is to determine the true cost of going there. The total cost is not simply just the cost of tuition. This previous statement might seem obvious, but many students act upon this piece of information alone. Many prospective students, during their initial look at schools, will examine the tuition costs. If the cost is too high, they will dismiss that school from the realm of possibility. This might not be the best path to take.

Tuition is only one piece of the overall cost of the school. Even though a school has a higher tuition cost than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will end up paying more. You need to look at the whole picture. In addition to tuition, you’ll need to examine:

  • Living expenses: Dorm costs, personal supplies, food, and health insurance
  • Other school costs: Books, Computer, Tablet, etc.
  • Registration and application fees

Adding all of these things together, including tuition, will give you an idea of the overall expenses. From these you will need to subtract:

  • Federal grants
  • Grants/scholarships offered by the school
  • Outside grants and scholarships for which you have applied
  • Personal savings
  • Money that your parents plan to put into your education
  • Income you plan to use for school expenses.

A lot of these things are the same for each college you’ll go to. Your savings, your parent’s plan to help you financially and your income might not change much. One thing that will fluctuate is the grants and scholarships offered by the school itself. Sometimes, for example, a private school will have a higher tuition, but also more funding for grants and scholarships, which could make your cost of attendance lower than it may be at another school with a lower tuition.

Ways you can control costs:

The most important thing to remember is this: Anything that you cannot pay today, through grants, scholarships, savings, or income, will be something you will pay for later. Your best choice is to pay as much as possible today, so that you don’t have a large student debt to pay off when you graduate. Understanding the actual cost of attendance at a school is an important first step. Be sure to check to see if the same level of financial aid is offered each year, so that you aren’t surprised if your cost of attendance goes up after your freshman year. Pick a school that meets your academic needs, but has a reasonable cost.

Applying for scholarships and grants can help you offset your future debt. This can be time-consuming and tedious, since many scholarships require an essay and pay relatively small amounts. Yet those $500 and $1000 grants add up and can mean a big difference in your student debt.