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College Cost Calculator

A college cost calculator covers everything whereas a college tuition calculator only covers college tuition expenses.

A college cost calculator helps you to estimate how much your college expenses will be, depending on where you go to school and what type of institution it is. Note that a college tuition calculator focuses on the cost of tuition while a college cost calculator generally considers the total college cost of attendance. Both allow parents and students to plan ahead if it’ll be several years before those funds would be used, and they provide estimates to work with if university life will start soon.

As you use a college cost comparison between schools that you’re considering, it’s important to not let college cost of attendance stop you from applying somewhere. Financial aid packages often differ considerably from school to school, and you may be surprised at what a college offers you. Also consider that Ivy League schools in particular are especially generous to those in financially challenging situations.

How does a college cost calculator work?

A college cost calculator asks you to enter information such as whether it’s a private or public school, its exact name if you want more specificity, how many years you’ll attend that institution and how much you can pay with savings or otherwise. For those using a college savings calculator and looking to create a savings plan, other factors such as how many years it’ll be until college starts and the expected inflation rate between now and then will be included as well.

Using a college cost calculator can really help with college planning from a financial standpoint. Although you shouldn’t let cost stop you from applying for a school, having an idea of how much it’ll cost will give you a general idea of how to plan for once the first college expenses must be paid. Note that as you get closer to making a final decision, you’ll want to use a college net cost calculator as well as a college cost comparison one. Doing so will allow you to take into account any scholarships and grants that’ll be applied and reduce the cost of education.

Here’s a list of some of the most popular college cost calculators:

Another useful college cost calculator resource is one provided by U.S. News. It lists links to the college cost calculator that a number of schools have on their own websites. However, note that these university-provided calculators may not always offer apples-to-apples comparisons.

College expenses

Unfortunately, college expenses have increased exponentially over the past few decades. Here are some comparisons with all figures in 2017 dollars:

  • Public Colleges – tuition cost of $3,190 in 1988 and $9,970 in 2018, an increase of 213%
  • Private Colleges – tuition cost of $15,160 in 1988 and $34,740 in 2018, an increase of 129%

To use a specific example, somebody attending Harvard for a year in 1988 would pay $17,100 in 2017 dollars while one who attended classes there 30 years later would pay 163% more or $44,990. That means that the cost of attending Harvard on an annual basis has increased by an average of $930 every year since 1988.

Those using a college tuition calculator over the years have been disappointed to learn that college expenses, especially as they relate to tuition, have increased so much. In fact, tuition has increased much more quickly than personal income since 1970. Another factor in college expenses being so significant has been the increase in how many people are going to college today. Also, in the 1970s, solid jobs could be attained with a high school degree. As a result, college costs over time have taken up a much greater percentage of the average person’s budget.

College cost estimator: Expenses

When saving for college and engaging in college planning, take into account a number of factors that will contribute to your total cost:

  • Tuition – Note that public schools offer in-state and out-of-state tuition, the latter generally being much more expensive; this should be accounted for in a college tuition calculator
  • Fees
  • Room – This can be eliminated if you’ll be living at home or otherwise have your rental costs taken care of
  • Board/Food
  • Books
  • Supplies
  • Transportation – Unless you live on campus or within walking distance, you’ll need to account for things like bus fare or car upkeep and gas
  • Personal Expenses – This is the miscellaneous category that goes into a detailed college cost calculator; it can include things like buying a laptop, cellphone bills, laundry expenses and having fun such as eating out and attending sports events

Where does tuition go?

When using a college tuition calculator, you might get curious as to exactly where your tuition goes. Penn State University states that this aspect of your college cost there provides most of its general funds budget. Much of it pays for instructors and research and service efforts. Tuition also accounts for academic support, administrative support, student services and aid and maintenance of facilities.

What is the college cost for classes?

Those doing a college cost comparison and using a college savings calculator will want to compare tuition rates between universities. It’s important to note that this type of college expense varies quite a bit from one type of school to another. Here are some examples of average cost per credit hour:

  • Overall Average - $594
  • Four-Year Private School - $1,039
  • Four-Year Public School - $325
  • Two-Year Private School - $557
  • Two-Year Public School - $135

You should consider that in-state and out-of-state tuition at public universities differ with out-of-state tuition roughly coming to 2-1/3 times as much as in-state tuition. However, there are exceptions. For example, the Western Undergraduate Exchange program allows those located in the western part of the country to attend one of more than 160 schools also located in that region for no more than 1-1/2 times the rate of in-state tuition.

A college cost calculator covers everything whereas a college tuition calculator only covers college tuition expenses.

Cost of college dorms

A quality college cost estimator should also take into account a slight difference in the cost of dorms between public and private schools. The average cost of staying at a dorm and eating on campus at a public school is about $12,000 while it increases to about $13,000 at a private institution.

Cost of books at college

One set of costs that is roughly the same from school to school are books as they average around $1,240 a year at a four-year institution. However, do consider that this cost varies some from major to major, which may not be a factor that’s included in the average college cost calculator.

Paying for college

Once you have finished using a college savings calculator and determined how much college costs in general or at a specific institution, you’ll need to determine how it will be paid.

If you can get it, one of the best ways to engage in college savings is by securing a scholarship. These are most often merit scholarships or athletic scholarships and may take care of your entire of cost of attendance – a full-ride scholarship – or part of it. You may also receive multiple partial scholarships.

Another preferred way of saving money is by receiving grants. These are similar to scholarships in that you don’t have to pay them back. How they differ is how they’re awarded. Grants tend to be awarded by the U.S. government, state governments and private organizations and are usually based on financial need. One of the most common ones is a Pell Grant.

Another way to help with these expenses, but that will increase college costs over time, is by taking advantage of loans. You will almost always want to focus on federally funded loans first and then private loans. The former tends to offer considerably lower interest rates, resulting in long-term college savings over private loans.

A great way that many positively engage in the financial aspect of college planning is to plan to get an on-campus job or a work-study position. Of course, the downside is that this will take time away from studying, but the significant plus is that any money that you earn through working will never have to be paid back. Plus, the benefits of working while in college are numerous as well, especially if the position directly relates to your field or a passion of yours.

Saving for college and saving money while in college

As you use a future college cost calculator, look into saving what you can for college. Many use a 529 plan. Saving for college in this manner provides you with overall tax savings. Note that there are 529 prepaid tuition plans and education savings plans. At least one will be available to you regardless of where you live in the country. The latter allows you to save for room and board in addition to tuition and fees.

While you’re in college, investigate ways to save money and reduce the cost of attending the school. Sometimes, living off-campus will be cheaper overall than living in a dorm, or the opposite may be true. Compare the cost of an on-campus meal plan with getting groceries every week. Some will pay off as much of their loan interest, which will often be immediately applied in the case of private loans, as they can while in school.

Types of scholarships

Academic scholarships are often awarded by universities looking for students who will ultimately raise their reputation. Recipients are generally selected by admissions offices and often don’t require a separate application other than the general application for acceptance into the school. Another type is the National Merit Scholarship, which can be used at nearly all accredited schools.

Athletic scholarships are awarded by a significant number of athletic departments located across the country. They’re not just provided to those playing football at Alabama and basketball at Duke as hundreds of schools award them in a wide variety of sports. Many are full-ride scholarships while partial ones are awarded as well. Of course, your athletic skills are taken into account but so are your academic ones and other aspects of what you bring to the table.

Some of the major sports that offer athletic scholarships are:

Many of those looking to secure an athletic scholarship will use the services of Next College Student Athlete. This organization has helped more than 150,000 high school student-athletes earn a coveted spot on a college roster, many of them receiving athletic scholarships in the process. NCSA provides guidance as it relates to talking to coaches – what to say and when to reach out – and does things like creating impressive highlight videos and helping students narrow their selection of schools. The intent is to ensure that students find their best fits.

Over the 20 years since NCSA was founded in 2000, it’s received numerous positive reviews from coaches, players and their parents. Included is a near-perfect Google Reviews rating of 4.9. NCSA also knows that the 35,000 coaches who are in its network are looking for their best fits as well. They want to fill their rosters with players who bring the complete package athletically, academically and socially and who fit the cultures of their teams and schools.

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