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How much does it cost to attend college?

It all depends on your financial aid package.

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Guy attending college

How much it costs to go to college is complicated. While a school might have a high cost of attendance, how much you actually pay could be low. For a more accurate picture of how much college might cost you, look at your school’s average financial aid package. Or use a calculator for a personalized estimate.

How much does college cost per year?

College can cost anywhere from $18,000 to over $50,000 a year depending on where you go to school, if you’re an in-state or out-of-state resident and if you attend a public or private university. Aside from tuition and fees, your school’s cost of attendance usually also includes room and board, books, transportation and other personal expenses.

Here was the average cost of college for a full-time undergraduate student living on or near campus for the 2019–2020 academic year, according to a 2019 College Board study.

As these numbers show, tuition isn’t the only number you should look at. Room and board is also a significant part of the cost of attendance.

It was a quarter of the cost of attending a private school or a public school as an out-of-state student during the 2019–2020 academic year. And it was around 45% of the cost of public schools for in-state students and public two-year programs.

How much are tuition and fees at my state school?

State school costs can vary dramatically, depending on where you attend and if you’re an in-state or out-of-state student. It can cost as little as $6,350 as an in-state student in Florida and as much as $41,640 as an out-of-state student in Vermont. Here’s how much it costs across different states.

This data was released in November 2019 and does not reflect refunds and reimbursements offered by some colleges due to COVID-19.

How much will I pay per year?

You could pay anywhere from $18,000 to nearly $50,000 per year to attend college — it all depends on your financial aid package. Sometimes schools with a higher cost of attendance (COA) have generous financial aid packages that lead to a lower net price — the amount you pay after you receive financial aid. It all depends on how large your school’s endowment is for offering scholarships and grants to incoming students.

Your school determines your financial aid package by looking at two main factors: Whether you’re considered a dependent or independent student and your family income.

Here’s how much the average student paid for the 2015–2016 academic year based on different income levels:

Income levelPrivate four-year schoolPublic 4-year schoolPublic 2-year school
Independent students$27,500$19,260$13,780
Dependent students: Less than $35,000$19,960$14,550$9,330
Dependent students: $35,000 to $69,999$24,360$18,100$11,520
Dependent students: $70,000 to $119,999$29,190$21,860$13,070
Dependent students: $120,000 or higher$39,040$25,800$13,740
All students$29,640$20,090$12,180

How much will I pay for four years of college?

It’s difficult to predict how much you’ll pay for four years of college since it depends on your financial aid package and how much your school’s COA increases from year to year.

Here’s how much tuition increased over the past decade by school type:

  • Private four-year school: 1.9%
  • Public four-year school: 2.2%
  • Public two-year school: 2%

Based on these percentage changes, you might expect to pay a net cost of $147,940.97 at a private four-year school and $41,898.01 at a public four-year institution in tuition and fees.

How much did college costs change last year?

The increases over the decades doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll see those exact types of increases. Here’s how much college costs increased between the 2018–2019 and 2019–2020 academic years:

  • Private four-year school: 3.4% increase of $1,200
  • Public four-year school, in-state: 2.3% increase of $230
  • Public four-year school, out-of-state: 2.4% increase of $620

How to calculate the cost of attending college

How much college is going to cost you really depends on your personal situation. But there are a couple of tools you can use to figure out how much you’ll have to pay:

  • Net price calculator. Most schools have a net price calculator on their financial aid website that gives prospective students an estimate of how much your family is expected to contribute toward your education and how much financial aid you might receive.
  • FAFSA4caster. The FAFSA4caster gives you an estimate of how much federal aid you might qualify for at a particular school — including grants, loans and work-study — as well as the potential net price.

You might want to use both to get a more accurate estimate. A school’s net price calculator might have a more accurate reading of institutional scholarships and grants you might qualify for. But the FAFSA4caster can give you a better idea of how much federal aid you might receive.

How can I cover expenses?

If you don’t qualify for enough federal and institutional aid to cover the cost, you might want to consider these options to help pick up the slack:

  • Private grants. If you attend a school that can’t meet 100% of your financial need, you might qualify for a grant from an institution outside of your school.
  • Private scholarships. Students with good grades or special talents might qualify for merit-based scholarships from outside organizations.
  • Interest-free loans. Some private organizations offer loans that don’t come with interest — though usually in smaller amounts than traditional student loans.
  • Private student loans. After exhausting all of your federal and free financial aid options, consider applying for a loan from a private lender to cover the rest of your expenses.

You might want to start your search for extra funds with your school’s financial aid office. They can likely tell you the scholarships and grants for which you might be a good candidate.

8 ways to pay for college without going broke

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Bottom line

How much you pay for school comes down to your financial aid package, which depends on factors like your school’s COA, endowment and your family income. Using tools like a net price calculator and the FAFSA4caster can give you a more accurate estimate of how much you might pay before you apply.

You can learn more about how paying for school works by checking out our guide to student loans.

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