Paying for college is something that should be taken seriously. There are many costs that come with getting a higher education, and in some cases, these costs can be reduced or avoided depending on your family’s financial situation and your flexibility with the choice of school. Let’s break down some of the expenses you should expect, how they can be reduced, and why you should pay attention to the cost calculators that many schools provide on their websites.

Breaking Down College Expenses

The main costs that get all of the attention are the tuition and fees. The cost of tuition can vary depending on how many credits you plan on taking, whether you are attending in-state or out-of-state, and even your academic program.

Some of the things you should ask yourself are what sort of return on investment are you getting with your degree. If you have take out a large portion of loans to pay for a program that won’t yield much income after your graduate, then you should probably reconsider your plans.

Moreover, attending school in your home state is usually cheaper than going out of state. Although many of us have the dream of going away to college for that ideal experience, it is definitely not worth putting all that debt on your shoulders.

Next, to the tuition and fees, room and board is also something you need to consider. Living on campus can be a cost you can avoid if you attend college close to home. If that is not an option, then you will need to weigh if it’s worth living in the dorms or paying rent for a place off campus.

Finally, books and supplies, personal expenses such as bills and food, as well as transportation, are all costs that you need to consider. I was a commuter and had to drive to campus sometimes four days a week. Gas prices in California are notorious for being expensive, and it was costing me roughly $100 a week to drive from South Orange County to California State University, Long Beach. Book and supplies you can get on the cheap, and as for personal expenses, you just need to budget accordingly and not overspend.

Using a School’s Cost Calculator

To get a more accurate idea of how much you will end up paying, most school’s have a cost calculator on their website to give you a ballpark estimate. Any school that doesn’t have a calculator on their website has opted out of the federal financial aid system, though this is a small number of schools.

Calculators will vary in complexity, with some of the more helpful calculators taking into consideration income, tax figures, and current assets. Others will have merit-based calculators to gauge the quality of a student that desires to attend college by looking at GPA, SAT and/or ACT scores, rank in class, and the size of their class. When relying on these calculators, parents should ask the school how accurate their calculators are according to the article “What Can Clients Actually Expect to Pay for College?” A key indicator of the quality of a calculator is the time it takes to complete, with a more helpful one taking anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

Closing Thoughts

The goal is to reduce the cost of your higher education as much as possible. Get as many scholarships, grants, and financial aid as you can. If you have to take out loans, make sure that the career you are going into makes taking on the debt worth it. And finally, consider attending college locally rather than in another state. This can cut down costs, especially if you attend community college (like I did) then transfer to a four-year. If you do opt to follow the community college to four-year route, just make sure you have a clear path and stay focus on the goal—graduating with a degree in the shortest amount of time at the lowest cost possible.