College Budgeting - Beyond Books and Tuition
Getting in to the right college takes a lot of work and thoughtful consideration. Young adults and their parents have many factors they need to discuss when choosing a school to attend, not the least of which is the expenses - from tuition to toothpaste - that go along with spending 4 years earning a college degree. Whether a student has a full ride scholarship or is paying full tuition, a budget and an agreement between the parents and students is an important part of planning for a successful college experience.
The most important thing parents must do for their student is be up front about how much money they are willing to invest for financial obligations during college. Whether they are able to foot the whole bill or a few hundred dollars a year, this must be at the top of the list of topics regarding where the child applies and where the child enrolls. Banking on financial aid can be risky, as can expecting scholarships and grants. It's a good idea to do your homework - even talk with a consultant - to keep from having a very disappointed student unable to accept admission at their dream school.
Keep in mind that this is a very personal decision and there is no right or wrong answer to the question of how much to give your college student to help pay for their education. Some families are comfortable with giving as much to the student as is needed, no questions asked, while others are adamant that students need to foot the entire college bill themselves. There are as many ways to deal with the huge financial obligations of getting a four year degree (and beyond) as there are families.
When considering where to apply and where to attend college, several expenses - beyond the obvious tuition, books, room and board - need to be taken into account. Create a budget and then compare schools and cities.
Cost of living: Attending a school in a big city such as New York, Boston or San Francisco will require more money than attending school in a smaller town like Oberlin, OH, Northfield, MN or Bloomington, IN. If students live off campus, it will cost substantially more in a larger city than in a smaller one. Transportation, food, even the price of a pizza will differ dramatically from place to place. For those on a tight budget, considering a smaller city over a large one can make a big difference in the monthly expenses incurred.
Greek Life: At some schools, Greek life is a very big part of the social scene. However, being in a sorority or fraternity comes with a lot of extra expenses. At the University of Alabama, the cost per semester for those not living in the sorority house is $4,500.00, which doesn't include the added spending for activities, formal dresses, chapter t-shirts and so much more. While this is on the high side of the cost of Greek life across the country at various schools, it's shows how much of an impact the cost of being Greek can have on a student's budget.
Visits Home: Visits home by students and visits to school by parents will add up quickly, especially during freshman year. One of the great joys for both students and parents is seeing each other periodically during the school year. If your student is the type of young adult who likes to be with family on a regular basis, attending a school far from home will add significantly to the budget. Be sure to discuss this in depth with your student before encouraging him to apply to a school that is 2 plane rides away.
In the long run, it doesn't matter if a student is 100 or 1000 miles from home - the experience of living away from parents is what helps college students develop independence and self-sufficiency.
Travel: Semesters abroad, summer excursions, spring breaks, weekend ski trips...for some students, these are a given and parents are happy to pay their way. For most students, though, these extras are far less common and not something they can easily pay for. Be straight with your child about what you will and won't pay for, and take into account the environment of the school and whether not participating in these activities will be difficult for your young adult to come to terms with if it's something out of his budget.
Encouraging students to save money during high school before they leave for college is a great way to get them started on the path to financial responsibility and independence.