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How to Find the True Cost of College

Previously, we shared some tips with you and your family on how to make paying for college more feasible in the short and long term. Here are three more helpful hints that will increase your financial IQ and prepare you for the future. Think big – it’s more than just tuition. Far too often, you and your parents compare the costs of college by looking at tuition alone. Avoid shortsightedness and consider the required fees needed to spend a year on campus. In order to have an accurate understanding of a university’s actual price tag, you must pay attention to all expenses (especially those hidden ones).

Identify the hidden fees.
Your favorite university may advertise its global study abroad program, unique courses and top-notch facilities – but did you know that you might need to pay an additional fee to take advantage of these resources? Some fees are mandatory (i.e. health services, orientation, student activities fees), while others are optional (i.e. fees for university health insurance, art and science courses). There can be fees for late registration, taking a semester off or even graduating early.

My advice? Ask your bursar’s office for a complete list of all fees and, at the very least, you’ll never be surprised when you see the bill.

Make a personal budget and stick to it.
A financial aid officer at an Ivy League law school once said, “If you live like a lawyer in law school, then you’ll live like a student when you’re a lawyer.” In other words, if you spend outside your means now, you’ll have to pay for your extravagance later.

College is full of financial temptations: your roommate got front row tickets to the hottest concert; a classmate is taking class notes on a MacBook Air; your friends are planning a wild spring break in Cancun. But, you need to keep the big picture in mind. Don’t be lured into using credit cards to purchase these non-essential items (the interest rate on an outstanding balance can be outrageous). Do you really need to go on an extravagant spring break? Why buy the newest edition of every book, when you can pay less for a used edition? Is a scanner for your laptop really necessary?

You need to understand your own spending habits before you start college. Many students think they can take out loans or work more to match their new spending habits. Unfortunately, this may affect your studies and/or campus involvement. College is no fun if you are working more than 20 hours a week while going to school full-time.

My suggestions? Speak to your parents and financial aid counselor about learning how to make a balanced budget and learn healthy spending habits now.