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How to Figure the Cost of College

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Financial aid packages can be daunting–very hard to figure out–, and they have to be figured year by year. So how do parents and students weigh the true cost of their educating and budget for it? How do you know when the cost of an education is doable over four years, and if it is worth that expenditure? How can one measure the value of an education for later life?

With the cost of an education today, the amount of debt you have after you have earned your degree can influence the quality of the rest of your life. For example, students with a lot of debt often can not afford graduate school, and some graduates with debt have to take a job they like less because it pays more.

Here are some easy steps for you to cover to try to plan the cost of an education and of it has good value.

Start with the various offers you have for financial aid where you have been accepted:

  • Add up the cost of your tuition, room, board, and transportation for each college. This is the net cost. You also have to figure that tuition will go up each year during the four, or five, years you attend.
  • Next, add up your grants, which you will not have to pay back, along with your scholarships, which will become part of your debt. Remember that freshmen get more grants than seniors, so you can expect the amount you borrow over the time you are in college to rise.
  • Subtract your aid (grants and scholarships) from your costs and see which college stacks up as the best deal for your money.

Then consider the outcomes, after graduating:

  • Look at the graduation rate of the colleges where you have been accepted. You want a school where students graduate in 4 years, to save you the most money.
  • Next look at how many students graduating from each college default on their loans. This will give you a good idea of how employable graduates from this college are to give you a sense of the value of a degree from that school.

After considering both cost and value, choose the school that will give you the most for the least amount of money. Also keep in mind what your estimated debt will be from your scholarship totals over 4 years. Will that debt be too much to allow you a good quality of life from the time you earn your degree? It is not too late to consider a community college near you, at least for two years before transferring to a college or university. It may make the best sense money-wise.

Never cut off your options, and make sure you understand all the factors before you make this important decision.