Breaking down the cost of college
No one can deny that the cost of a college education in the U.S. has gone up dramatically in the past two decades, and determining that cost will likely be a major factor in deciding which college you’ll attend. Tuition at some top-tier universities exceeds $40,000 per year, and a family or individual student could easily spend six figures acquiring that much-coveted degree.

The cost of a college education involves a number of expenses, including some you might not anticipate. By fully understanding your college costs, you’ll be better equipped to accurately compare schools and explore ways to reduce those expenses.

Main Expenses

There are five main types of expenses to consider when you’re projecting how much your college education will cost.

Tuition and fees. Together, tuition and fees represent the price of enrolling in courses at a college or university. Tuition covers the cost of the courses themselves, while fees cover other charges such as lab fees, parking fees and activity fees.

According to figures compiled by U.S. News &World Report, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2017-2018 academic year was $34,699 for private colleges, $9,528 for in-state residents at public colleges, and $21,632 for out-of-state students at public colleges. At public community colleges, tuition and fees averaged about $3,570 per year.

To complicate matters, many institutions now charge what’s called differential tuition or a tuition surcharge for students majoring in particular fields. If you’re planning to major in science or technology, you may pay higher tuition than a student majoring in history because additional funds are needed to pay for more expensive programs.

Nikki Young, Interim Director of Admissions at Texas Woman’s University, says her institution uses funds from tuition surcharges to recruit quality faculty, provide state-of-the-art resources and recover overhead costs in some fields.

Nursing, health studies, dental hygiene and engineering are areas in which TWU applies tuition surcharges. Even with these charges, however, Young says that TWU remains one of the most affordable schools in North Texas.

On the other hand, schools sometimes offer tuition waivers or reductions to faculty

and staff and their family members.TWU offers a tuition waiver to children of faculty in the Professional Nursing program, and Dallas Baptist University provides tuition assistance to faculty, staff and their spouses and children.

Room and board. Colleges usually offer a variety of dorm options and meal plans for students living on campus. Public colleges and universities currently charge an average of about $9,700 a year for room and board.

If you choose to live off-campus, you’ll need to consider your own rent and food costs in your budget.

Books and supplies. For the average undergraduate student at a four-year public institution, the cost of textbooks and school supplies is close to $1,300 a year. To save money, consider purchasing used textbooks or renting a textbook if you’re unlikely to need it once the course is over.

Personal expenses. These include expenses like laundry, cell phone bills, the occasional pizza and anything else you might normally spend money on. A recent study found that students with a campus food plan typically spend about $800 a year on outside food.

Transportation. Whether you commute to school daily or live on campus and make an occasional trip home, you’ll need to consider transportation costs. The amount you spend will vary, of course, depending on how you travel and how often.

“Tuition at some top-tier universities exceeds $40,000 per year.”