The average in-state tuition and fees at a public, four-year institution was $9,970 for the 2017-2018 school year. The average for a private school was $34,740.
The College Board estimates that students should budget anywhere between $25,000 and $50,000 a year for total college costs.
Where does that extra money go? From the obvious to the not-so-obvious, here are the expenses the experts say take the biggest bite out of the college budget:
- Housing. On-campus housing costs at a state university average around $10,000 a year. And, just like tuition, housing costs at a private school are even more at about $35,000 a year. Off-campus housing costs can vary widely, depending on whether your student’s school is in a big city like New York or in a small town in the middle of Nebraska. Plus, an apartment comes with deposits for damages and utilities, among other extra costs.
- Books. The College Board estimates this expense at $850 to $1,000 a year.
- Food. A kid’s gotta eat. And while the average college student might consume their weight in ramen noodles every year, most freshmen sign up for an on-campus meal plan. Average cost: $5,000 a year.
- Travel and transportation. At some point, your student is going to want to come home, even if it’s only to do laundry (another unexpected cost!). Budget for plane or train tickets, or gas to make the trip. And speaking of gas, many colleges don’t allow freshmen to have a car. But if yours does, be advised that their insurance rates may increase. Uber and Lyft are convenient options for local transportation, but can break the budget fast.
- Clothing. Sweatpants and flip flops won’t cut it for job interviews, internship opportunities or networking events. Time to invest in a more professional wardrobe; but that will cost money.
- Social life. Athletic events are a way of life at big-time colleges. Student season football ticket prices ranged from $210 to $280 at Clemson University this year. Your student might also want to join intramural sports teams, clubs or a professional association. A fraternity or sorority can cost several thousand dollars a year.
So where do students find funding for tuition, fees, plus all of the expenses that come with college life? Start with a robust financial plan and a strategic approach to funding. Grants and other financial aid cover, on average, nearly 60 percent of tuition and fees at a public institution.
Private scholarships also come into play. There are literally thousands of these out there just waiting for students to apply. And don’t forget organizations that serve the military like the commissary, spouses’ clubs and veterans’ groups.
Students who served in the military and are going back to school often have access to unique education benefits, such as the GI Bill, VA funding or state tuition programs. These vary widely and have strict rules and timelines for their use.
Even with all those options, families are still left crunching numbers to figure out how to pay the unexpected, hidden costs of college. This is where additional loans can come in to close the gap.
How do loans work? Here’s a few key facts to know:
- Loans can come from federal or private sources. Federal loans are offered to students and funded directly by the U.S. government, and are part of the Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) that nearly every student fills out. Private loans are offered by credit unions and banks and are often secured by a parent.
- One advantage to a private loan from a credit union is that a parent can co-sign, thus potentially resulting in lower interest. Other advantages include no requirement for proof of need, and the loan can be refinanced later if the borrower qualifies for a lower interest rate.
- As always, it’s important to manage any loans and debt carefully. A credit union or bank will have in-house resources to help you do this wisely. Students who use a private loan can build credit and reduce overall loan costs with different repayment options.
Going to college is a big decision. Understanding the cost of your education along with establishing solid funding sources, will set you up for long term success that will help your finances long beyond graduation day.
Navy Federal is federally insured by NCUA.