Paying Cash for College- Part 2: Counting the Cost

This post is part 2 in the series to lead you to a life with #nocollegedebt. If you haven’t read part 1, click here to read it.



In this week’s installment, you are going to focus on the big, scary numbers: how much is it going to cost me to go to college. To do so, create a list of the schools you are looking at attending, then find the information below.

  1. Annual Tuition
  2. Housing Cost
  3. Food Cost (Dining Plan)
  4. School Fees
  5. Cost of Books
  6. Misc. Expenses

1) Annual Tuition

How much does it cost just to take the classes? If it lists the cost by semester, double it, and you have your number for each year of school. I would suggest rounding it to the next thousand, though, for 4-year schools to compensate for the annual rise in tuition.

This one is pretty straight forward except for one little thing: most likely it will take you more than 4 years. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), just over a third of college students looking to complete a Bachelor’s degree will finish it in 4 years and less than two-thirds finished in 6 years. With that being said, you may want to add another year’s worth of costs (or maybe 2) to be a little more realistic. Hey, if you do get out in four years, you will have some extra money to play with to start your new life out of school.

2) Housing Cost

Yes, you need a place to live. Before you jump ship looking at the “Room and Board” costs at the school, consider that this covers all of your utilities for the year. If you want to compare off-campus housing to on-campus accurately, use a real estate site like Zillow or Trulia to give you a good estimate for housing and utility prices in the area around the school.

3) Food Cost (Dining Plan)

Again, before bailing on dining plans, how many meals do you eat a week? Then, multiply it out over the course of a 15 or 16 week semester. How much does it come-out to? You can save some money cooking your own meals (especially off-campus), but you will have to be disciplined to do this and not order out pizza or just boil bricks of Raman (although cheap, not so healthy) every meal.

4) School Fees

Every school seems to have fees for everything from “Student Activities” to Parking Passes to that “Graduation Fee.” Yea, Fees!

5) Cost of Books

This one is a little bit tricky and will vary greatly by major. You can usually find averages or suggested amounts to budget. Using these numbers will work. If you plan to go into a field that is heavy in science or math (read Nursing or Engineering), you will want to estimate higher than the suggested cost. Just sayin.


6) Misc. Expenses

This category is the hardest. If you haven’t gone to college, it’s hard to figure out how much to allot for this. Everybody tells you about the pizza consumption at colleges (trust me, if you like pizza, you will eat A LOT of pizza). What about other supplies, toiletries, snacks, coffee to stay awake during your 3pm class, etc.? CollegeCalc (link below) has done some of the heavy lifting for you and makes suggestions for you based on the school you are looking at.

Time to bust-out the calculator and check-out what the damage is going to be.

Welcome back. I hope that when you hit the floor from passing-out that you didn’t hit your head too hard.

Now that you have completed step one, answer and discuss the following questions with your teen (even better, leave your answers in the comments below).

 -Did any of the total costs surprise you?

-Was the cost higher or lower than you expected for the schools on your list?

-Have any of the results so far pushed you away or drew you closer to an individual school?


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