College acceptance letters and financial aid award packages usually arrive in early spring every year. Parents and their high school seniors carefully scrutinize each line in the process of trying to make the final choice.
Try to get a handle on the following factors that can affect your student—whether it's you or your child—before making a final decision.
Beyond Student Loans
While a lot has been said about determining the net cost of attending a college, there are a few additional costs to take into consideration. You initially want to determine the costs of tuition and other costs to attend each selected college, and then subtract the amount of “free” money available in grants and school scholarships.
Looking at the number of student loans you or your child will be required to take out will help determine a net out-of-pocket cost. But there is one more column you should add to your spreadsheet to help determine the actual cost of attending a particular school. These are the costs that might not be so obvious, but they can add thousands of dollars in expenses each year to your family’s budget.
Cost of Living
Unless the school is totally isolated, the student is going to be living in an area that will require certain expenses. Students want to have a well-rounded college experience, but off-campus forays can put a huge dent in the budget.
In 2020, Best College Reviews ranked the 50 best college towns in the U.S. Not surprisingly, colleges in smaller towns like Corvallis, Oregon, and State College, Pennsylvania, came up highest on the list.
Another advantage of “college towns” is that local businesses often cater to the college community with student discounts, while colleges in major metropolitan areas may not be so focused on students.
If you are expecting the student to hold a part-time job off-campus during the school year, do a quick check to determine how many jobs are actually available. Smaller towns might not have the range that a city can offer.
Some schools offer work-study programs for eligible students with financial need. The money earned can be put toward their education. As many of these jobs are on-campus, it can help ensure there's a balance between working and studying. When choosing a college, look into the availability of work-study programs if you could benefit from having some extra cash.
Proximity to businesses in the student's chosen profession could also be important, as it may increase the potential for internship opportunities or post-graduation employment.
This doesn’t just refer to the cost of getting the student back to and from campus initially—although that should definitely be taken into consideration. This refers to the transportation needs the student will have once their parents leave for home.
Is the college a closed campus that is easily walkable, or will the student be in a city where a daily commute is necessary? If they live off-campus, how will they get to campus? Any costs for a vehicle the student has on campus should be taken into consideration as well.
Many colleges—though not all—require first-year students to live on campus. If that's the case for the college you're considering, it may be more expensive than renting an apartment, for example. However, students who live in campus dorms often receive a meal plan rolled into the cost of housing, which can cut down on food expenses.
If the student will not be living in campus dorms, this element could add a whole new dimension to the out-of-pocket budget. Research apartment costs near campus, find out about public transportation options, and do a little more research into the local economy to put together a budget for food and household items.
This should also include such extras as utilities, cable, Wi-Fi, laundry, cell phone, and other monthly expenses.
Choosing a college can be a fun experience, but it can also be intimidating trying to make the right choice. Just keep in mind that the more information you have before making a decision, the better your decisions will be for you or your college student.