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How to Estimate How Much College Actually Costs

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How to Estimate How Much College Actually Costs

One of the most important components of your student’s decision about college is finances. While the financial aid office at schools that your student has applied to will be sending information, your family also needs to consider other budget line items that impact how much college actually costs. Understanding both of these numbers will help you estimate how much college actually costs! Some examples to consider include your student’s living expenses, travel costs, and other incidentals. Believe it or not, these other items add up quickly! You should also be considering how long financial aid actually lasts, the length of time to graduate, and post-college income earning potential in the field. If you’re not sure how to estimate how much college actually costs, here’s a few questions to consider:  

How long does the degree take vs. how long your student will receive financial aid?

Try to get a clear picture of exactly how long it takes most students in that area of study to graduate from that specific school. You should also consider what you already know about your own student’s academic abilities. Do you expect them to take longer? Once you have a better understanding of the length of the program, compare it to the offered financial aid. Do the two amounts of time match? Be sure to look at grants and scholarships carefully – as they don’t always last a full four years. It’s important to also review eligibility requirements and what happens if a student fails to meet them at any time. The amount of assistance being received could be a major point in determining which school your student attends. 

Are there any additional costs for their major?

Some areas of study accrue additional costs, which may not be included in the standard cost calculation. If your student is required to travel for any reason, find out if that is an additional amount that your family will have to pay. For some art or music-related majors, concerts, recitals, and performances may require extra fees. If there’s additional learning opportunities, it’s critical to understand the out of pocket cost. Otherwise, those fees could eat up your cash! Finally, if your student is interested in studying abroad, know the numbers. Request information to understand the financial picture of that opportunity. All of these numbers need to then be considered in your planning. 

What is the amount of student loans your student can actually repay?

Be very sure you completely grasp how much of your financial aid package comes in the form of student loans. Student loans can impact both parents and students, as well as younger family members too. Take the time to calculate the total burden placed on all family members once the monthly repayment begins. That number should then be compared with potential income earning abilities post-graduation. Ask the financial aid office how many students in your major get a job in that field. You should also discuss what initial salaries are like and where the jobs are located. Even students in medical or business fields might find that they struggle initially to get on their feet until they are able to start earning additional money.

From the information provided by the financial aid office and these other line items, you should be able to make an educated guess on college costs for your student. If the college’s website does not provide sufficient insights, you can turn to the financial aid office for further information. All of these questions obviously impacts high school seniors deciding on colleges this spring. But, even if your student is a junior, your family should consider the final number when deciding on which schools to apply to. Money impacts college decisions, it’s a fact. Your goal should be to as informed as possible when deciding on schools. 

Who Are We?

CFAA helps with the financial aid process, from completing the FAFSA and completing the CSS Profile to reviewing the SAR, responding to requests for verification, comparing financial aid offers and understanding student loan options. Schedule a CFAA new client free strategy session or a 15 Minute Power Chat to learn more about finding ways to pay for college. To get the latest financial aid information and college application to-do lists, look for my bi-weekly JustAskJodi emails and check out my monthly CFAA e-newsletter.

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