Navigating College Costs

Any idea how much it’s going to cost to go to college? Maybe you’re not sure of what options in terms of financial aid are available? The fact is, there’s no one size fits all financing plan.

States vary, student needs vary and the costs, while you can prepare, are often determined with shades of gray. The good news is, you don’t have to max out your credit cards to cover college for your son or daughter or yourself. Here, we break it down, courtesy of The National College Finance Center.

Common Costs

Below are a few of the common costs today’s college student can expect to pay.

Tuition & fees: These will vary based on a number of factors, including whether it’s a private or public college, the student’s academic program and the number of credit hours that student takes each semester.

Books & supplies: These course materials will vary, as well, based on the major, the school and each individual course. Many families find second hand text books at sites such as Amazon. The costs are often one half or even a quarter of what they would be if you were to buy the books new.

Room & board: If your college student intends to live on campus, you should expect dorm fees, meal plans and sometimes minimal costs such as parking fees if your student parks off-site. The charges vary depending on the room and meal plan chosen. For those students living off campus, there are other costs such as traditional utility payments and of course, rent on a house or apartment.

Transportation: Whether your student live on campus or if he commutes from home, there are costs associated with how they get to and from class. Fuel costs, automobile maintenance, insurance and other considerations. Many parents provide their college students a credit card reserved just for these expenses.

Various personal expenses: Unless your students bring laundry home every weekend, you can expect to pay laundry costs. Other expenses include cell phone service, cable television, disability and health related costs and the ever-important pizza fund. This is a great time for young adults to learn budgeting skills and they can also easily see how credit card interest rates affect credit card balances. Encourage your son or daughter to keep track of their personal expenses with spreadsheets and of course, keeping receipts will allow you – or them – to include the expenses in their yearly filings. The NCFC encourages the use of budget calculators.

Financial Aid

This is often a very important dynamic associated with a student’s ability to attend college. The Cost of Attendance (COA) is reduced by the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) which then provides the financial need of a student. These academic costs include everything from lab fees to tuition to dorm fees and everything in between. COA is determined by adding up all of the costs associated with attending college. Your college will determine your COA based on the typical costs associated at that college.

EFC is determined by a federal formula which takes into account income, size of household, number in college and other factors. You will receive your EFC after you file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). These applications are found often on the college website.

Types of Financial Aid

According to NCFC, there are four basic types of financial aid available for college:

Grants: This is “free money” students can apply for each semester that enables them to cover many of the college costs, such as book fees and tuition. It doesn’t have to be paid back, though applying for any of these many grants is the only way to secure funding.

Scholarships: These too are “free money” that students can apply for. Scholarships usually have stipulations attached. For instance, an English major may find many scholarships that are open to students seeking funds to become English teachers. There are athletic scholarships, too. Your son may be a top-notch ball player, so seek out sports scholarships is your first best option.

Federal Work-Study employment Opportunities: These are always a great way to earn money for college costs. It provides work experience while also ensure the funds are available to move forward with one’s education.

Student Loans: These are exactly what you thing: loans made to college students or their families that must be paid back. The interest rate is usually very low, but it’s the right choice for many families, especially if a scholarship or grant doesn’t come through.

Colleges often award grants to help make up the difference between college costs and what a family can be expected to contribute through income, savings, loans, and student earnings. Awards may be based on academic merit, artistic or athletic talent, financial need or other factors.

The NCFC encourages students and their families to explore the “free money” opportunities available to before taking out a student loan.

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