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The Real Cost of College: Direct and Indirect Expenses Every Family Should Know

Going to college is one of the most significant investments a family can make, but the cost of attending a college or university goes beyond tuition and fees. In this post, we'll break down the direct and indirect expenses that families can expect when sending their child to college and why it's crucial to start considering these costs early in the process.

Direct Expenses

Direct expenses are the costs that a college or university will bill the student or family for attending the institution. These costs typically include tuition, fees, and room and board if the student chooses to live on campus. The direct costs will vary depending on the institution and the location, but families should expect to pay anywhere from $20,000 to $70,000 or more per year for direct expenses alone.

The average cost of room and board at a private, nonprofit, four-year institution for the 2020-21 academic year was $13,020. The average cost at a four-year public institution was $11,620. --College Board

It's important to note that the direct expenses can be found on the college's website. Typically, the college's financial aid office will have a breakdown of the tuition, fees, and room and board costs. Students should check the college's website and contact the financial aid office directly to ensure they have the most up-to-date and accurate information on direct expenses.

Indirect Expenses

Indirect expenses are costs a student will incur but are not necessarily billed directly by the institution. These costs may include textbooks, transportation, and personal expenses, such as laundry, toiletries, and clothing. These expenses can add up quickly and should be factored into the overall cost of attending a college or university.

The average cost of textbooks and supplies for a full-time undergraduate student at a four-year public institution for the 2020-21 academic year was $1,240 --College Board

One significant indirect expense for students going out-of-state for college is travel. Students will need to budget for airfare or gas, lodging, and food if they plan to go home for breaks or holidays. Also, students should take into account the cost of moving in and out of their dorms, storage expenses, and any necessary travel expenses for internships, study abroad programs, or academic conferences.

Many students will only live on campus for part of their time in school, so costs associated with living off-campus are something to consider as well. Rent, utilities, parking, or commuting fees to get to campus are just some of the things to consider. Your lease will go for 12 months, so keep in mind these expenses will run all year, even during the summer when you might not even be there.

One other area to look into is expenses associated directly with the program or major you are pursuing. Many majors require students to have specific equipment for their programs. For example, many business programs require their students to have a PC laptop and may also require certain software packages (like Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint). Science majors could expect to pay lab fees associated with their science classes. Other programs may require their students to complete certifications associated with their majors. While these can be great resume enhancers, the students are usually required to pay to take the certification and also for tutoring or prep work to get ready to take the certification.

Health and wellness fees are something to consider as well. At many schools, this will be something billed by the school on your tuition bill; however, some schools require students to carry health insurance, and your family's health coverage may not suffice. At TCU, for example, all undergraduates are required to have health insurance. If a student's family has health coverage a student must apply for an exemption each year and have the coverage approved (basically to show that the coverage extends to students living in Texas). It is possible that your family's health insurance would not cover the student and the family may have to purchase an additional policy for their student. Policies for health coverage vary by institution so it is something to keep in mind.

The social aspect of college is one that many students are looking forward to, but most forget to include in their projected costs. These can include joining fraternities or sororities, belonging to clubs or organizations, participating in intramurals, going to social events with friends, dining out, and going out. These costs may be small at first, but they can add up quickly, especially if the student is living in an expensive city.

Additionally - many students look forward to the big college sports experience, but not all schools include this in their student's tuition. Some schools require students to purchase tickets to popular sporting events (such as football). The University of Texas, for example, is so large that not all students can attend home football games. Students must purchase tickets if they want to attend games.

Finally, many schools have commencement fees associated with graduating. Schools may charge the student for their graduation and to attend the ceremony. Others may charge a fee for the application to apply for graduation. Additionally, there are the costs for a cap and gown, class ring, and graduation photos.

Considering Cost in Your College Selection Process

Families should start considering the total cost of attendance early in the college selection process. By researching the direct and indirect expenses associated with attending a particular institution, families can better understand the financial commitment required to send their child to college. If cost is a significant factor in the college selection process, families should express their concerns early in the process to avoid any surprises later.

Attending college is a significant investment, but families can make informed decisions by understanding the direct and indirect expenses associated with attending a particular institution. By starting the research process early, families can make sure that their child's college experience is both fulfilling and financially sustainable.

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