Costs: Building a College List – With Eyes Wide Open

If you follow any kind of media, you might think that the college search and application process is geared solely to "check the boxes" in order to package the perfect application with the goal of how to be “selected”. While grades and test scores do help to indicate success and fit, what is often overlooked is student choice and that should include affordability. Too often students and families skip the “affordability” step until spring when it’s time to determine where to go. Assumptions that public institutions versus private institutions will be financially more obtainable can be based on false assumptions. The Net Price Calculator through College Board and on college websites helps to standardize the costs, so that families can compare apples to apples, and to have a clear idea of the actual costs that families are signing up for, research can’t stop there. Using the Net Price Calculator is a good first step, but often doesn’t reveal the entire picture of what it costs to attend college. In The New York Times article by Rochelle Sharpe, “Those Hidden College Fees, some of the “add-ons” that need to be taken into the college budget equation are highlighted and help to remind families that you have to look at more than just the annual tuition.

By recognizing the “hidden” costs of attending college while building a college list, students and parents give themselves time to weigh the pros and cons of their choices without feeling the pressure of a May decision looming down on them. Costs can range from:

  • Bedding for xl twin beds - the default in most dorm rooms

  • Seasonal gear e.g. Winter gear (parkas, boots, sweaters)

  • Food and activities outside of dorm living and meal plans that are integral to a social life

  • Accurate estimate for books and supplies

  • A student’s new school friends planning a “fabulous” trip for a school break, which comes with a hefty price tag.

Equally important are transportation costs that extend beyond the start and end of the school year, and can include holiday breaks, and the affordability of coming home at Thanksgiving or parents’ visiting days. These are not limited to travel, but can also require hotel/food accommodations and are details that provide a better assessment of what a college budget will truly look like. The college search can be a full-time job, but with education and guidance students and families can learn more of the true cost to attend so they can make the informed decisions needed for this important investment.

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