In today’s day and age, a college education is practically mandatory for success in most fields. Whereas all that was needed just a few decades ago was a high school diploma, a college degree is practically equivalent to that today. Despite the many criticisms that may revolve around higher education, it is mostly a non-negotiable reality for those seeking to maximize their income and potential.
In the United States specifically, the cost of a college education can be phenomenally steep. While most countries provide either partial or total tuition coverage, the US has a patchwork system of subsidies, grants and federal loans that do not guarantee a college education for every prospective student. The reality is an immensely expensive system that can cost as much as $50,000 per year without assistance.
To cover this in-depth, let’s examine all of the factors that contribute to this price tag – including some not-so-obvious costs.
The single biggest reason behind the exploding cost of college is definitely tuition. This price tag alone is enough to make the college journey either difficult or impossible for millions of potential students, but it is still only one part of the total cost. Currently, the average annual tuition – excluding other factors such as room and board – runs in the thousands of dollars.
For standard two-year public colleges, the average 2019 tuition is currently a rather reasonable $3,500. For those who plan on attending four-year public colleges (under in-state tuition), the average tuition is closer to $10,000. For the same four-year colleges, out-of-state tuition costs average around $25,000. Last but definitely not least, those who are planning to attend private four-year colleges are in for a shock: the average annual tuition is nearly $35,000 per year.
These costs are phenomenal – both by historical and international standards. It should not be surprising that roughly 70 percent of students who attend college graduate with some form of student loan debt.
Books and Supplies
Even though the cost of tuition is astronomical, many students will comment that the single biggest form of price gouging in the college experience comes from textbooks, fees and other school-mandated costs. Most textbooks – whether physical or digital – can cost hundreds of dollars individually – with little to no resale value available.
Even for those who are lucky, spending approximately $1,000 per semester on books and other associated fees is common. While not the bank-breaking total that is often associated with tuition costs, over a four year period, this total can add up to a significant amount.
Additionally, other supplies and requirements for college are all too common. Laptops, tablets and other mobile devices for school work are practically a must: expect to add another $500 per year on average just from these expenses.
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Getting from point A to point B while in college can pose a significant challenge, depending on the exact circumstances. Some are fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of public transit, which can be considerably cost-effective under the right conditions. Other college campuses – particularly those in smaller cities and/or isolated from urban clusters – may not be as easily accessed.
Whether it be an independent vehicle, or the funds for public transit, most college students are going to have to pay for the privilege of transportation. This can include the purchase of a vehicle, insurance, parking permits, fuel and maintenance. The end result is that the average college student can expect to spend around $1,000 per year on transportation costs – though that figure is heavily dependent on the amount of public transit used and/or available around the college campus.
Room and Board
With the exception of tuition, housing costs while attending college are the biggest concern for most students. While some may be fortunate enough to attend college near home and therefore can commute daily, most students attending major four-year universities do not have such privilege. In this case, the costs of room and board can begin adding up quickly.
Depending on the college and its requirements, students may be able to live in campus housing or off-campus. Generally speaking, on-campus housing tends to be more expensive: on average, expect to spend an extra $10,000 per year for on-campus accommodations. Those who do (or can) choose to live off-campus may be able to find more affordable accommodations depending on the area, but in most cases, this still amounts to several thousand dollars per year in lodging costs.
There are plenty of stereotypes floating around about the ramen noodle-eating college student struggling to make ends meet, but this light-hearted projection isn’t too far from reality for many. The sheer cost of food can add up quickly, regardless of the manner in which it is covered.
Perhaps the easiest – but least flexible – option for meals in college is a meal ticket via the university itself. However, be warned: these plans can be quite expensive. In many cases, students are looking at anywhere from $4000 to $6000 per year for all 3 meals to be covered on a daily basis. Even with this assurance, there are still situations in which students will need to provide some food for themselves when they are off-campus or after certain hours.
Another, more affordable option is to buy groceries and prepare them at home. Many college students on a budget can eat for $50 per week or less, which drives down costs to a more reasonable $2000 to $3000 per year.
Last but not least, the issue of healthcare is something that many students fail to consider – but is nevertheless very important. Thankfully, changes to healthcare via the Affordable Care Act now mean that students can stay on their parents’ healthcare insurance plans until the age of 26, significantly reducing any healthcare-related costs.
However, for those who do not have access to healthcare via their parents, obtaining insurance can be quite expensive. Statistically speaking, the average college-aged student will spend less money out of pocket on healthcare than they would spend via a mid-tier insurance plan (~$3000 per year). Needless to say, obtaining insurance is the preferred option, given life’s little mishaps can happen to anybody at any time.
When added together, many college students are spending upwards of $50,000 per year on the true cost of education. While there are workarounds, grants and savings tips to minimize these expenses, the true cost of college can often be obscured when not looking at non-tuition factors. With this information in hand, students can be better prepared for the true cost of college in the future.