Average Cost of College: The Real Price of American Education

We all know going to college isn’t cheap. The average cost of college go up every year and it’s pretty discouraging. But here’s the thing:  just because you can’t afford it means you can’t go. Fact: two-thirds of college undergrads get financial aid through scholarships, loans, grants and work-study. College is expensive, but there are ways to help pay for it.

average cost of college

The average cost of college in the US


So how much does it really cost? That depends on three things: how many years your undergrad program will take, what type of school you’ll be attending and if you’re a state resident.


If it’s a two-year program at a public college, tuition, fees plus room and board cost around $10,730 a year. If it’s a public school with a four-year program, the cost is $18,391 for state residents and $31,701 for non-state residents yearly. And a typical four-year undergrad program in private schools costs roughly $40,917 per year.


The average cost of college may actually cost more or less than these figures, depending on the actual cost of attendance at your school and the financial aid you’ll be getting.


Why so much?


Keep in mind that the numbers mentioned is not just the tuition. The estimate includes other expenses while you’re staying in college. Most likely, the average cost of college that’s given by the school is an  estimate of the following:


  • Tuition
  • Room and board (includes meals)
  • Living expenses (water, heating, electricity)
  • Books and school supplies
  • School fees (activity fees, parking fees)
  • Transportation costs (if you commute or travel home on breaks)
  • Personal expenses (toiletries, laundry, phone credits)
  • Laptop/PC cost with internet connection
  • Study abroad program cost
  • Social expenses (movies, dine outs, cable TV)
  • Other costs (Care for dependents, disability-related costs)


Just like any household, colleges are also affected by inflation: electricity, water, fuel, food etc. There are also construction, maintenance and labor expenses within the school. These are reasons for the not-so-cheap average cost of college and its increase year after year.


How do I get an estimate?


Most schools have a college cost calculator on their website so put it to good use to get a good idea on how much you’d be paying for your education. In addition, CNN has also a cost calculator for college to help prospective students and parents. Get a good cost estimate so you can prepare ahead financially.


How much do my parents have to pay?


How much is the cost of attendance at the college you want to attend? It’s called the school’s sticker price. The sticker price minus the gift aid from government and/or the school itself equals the net price. The net price is the share of the amount you and your parents have to pay for your education. For example, the school’s sticker price is $8,660 per year. When you apply for gift aid, the amount is reduced to just $2,910. As you can see, the average cost of college isn’t really the amount you have to pay.


How do I get aid?


Submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) immediately after January 1. This form will determine if you qualify for aid, and the result is sent to the colleges you plan to attend. The State and the school will use this information to award loans, work-study programs or grants so it’s important that you take time to fill out the form. Do inquire from your college about the scholarships that they offer. You may qualify for merit, need-based or other scholarships so be sure to ask. Getting aid will help lessen the average cost of college.


Is college worth it?


You can land better-paying jobs, get more job opportunities and get more freedom to work wherever you want. We read about graduates not getting the jobs they studied for, but stats show that those who finish college get better jobs with low chances of unemployment.  With the economy in bad shape, would you rather study now to get better jobs in the future, or work now and face possible unemployment someday? It’s entirely up to you.


In conclusion


Don’t get intimidated by the average cost of college. Sticker price and net price aren’t the same thing. After deciding on which college you plan to attend, get a cost calculator to get a good idea on how much you’ll really pay for college. The amount might actually surprise you.


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