College Costs


How much does it cost to attend college in the US?

The Cost of Attendance (COA) varies greatly in the US with ranges from around $20,000/year for a nonresident attending a State university, to over $65,000 for a private college.  The average US private college costs around $27,000/year but the total cost for the most expensive colleges can be close to $60,000/year.  The most selective colleges have the most expensive price tag, but may not cost the most for a particular student.  Several factors come into play when determining the final costs and it is critical to compare different colleges carefully.

College costs have been increasing steadily thus creating a great deal of controversy particularly in these economic times where families are under greater financial pressure.  Below is a brief summary about college costs.

The COA or “Total Student Budget” includes 2 types of costs: direct costs & indirect costs.

  • Direct (fixed) expenses are billed by the college and include: tuition, some fees, room & board.
  • Indirect (non-fixed) expenses, those that are NOT on the college bill, are taken into consideration when looking at the overall cost to attend college (COA) and include: books, some fees, supplies, travel expenses, telephone, off-campus costs.

Colleges use COA in their calculation to determine eligibility for financial aid.  Make sure you know what is included in the COA for each college since components may vary.  COA includes:

  1. Tuition
  2. Room & Board
  3. Fees
  4. Books
  5. Transportation at a minimal level
  6. Medical insurance

What is not included in the COA?

  1. Extra transportation
  2. Entertainment, dining out, computer
  3. Fees that are not general, such as those linked to a particular major

COA has become more transparent due to pressure from the US government, and colleges are required to have a COA on their websites.

Who is responsible to pay for college?

The student and their family are responsible to pay for college since the US government stops free education at 12th grade, the last year of high school, and the year before entering college.  “Family” can include noncustodial parents in the case of divorce. Students are not considered independent from their parents until they are 24 years of age.

Who decides which students receive financial aid and how much?

The Financial Aid Office (FAO) makes these decisions. They may base their decision on several factors:

  • FAO budget which limits the amount of aid available.  It is important to apply early when maximum funds exist and to meet deadlines.
  • Demonstrated need of the student.  Families need to complete all forms completely and honestly.
  • Institutional needs and objectives that may vary year to year.
  • A student attribute that the college deems valuable.  Colleges may use grants to try and encourage a particular student to attend their institution.

What sources of funds are used to pay for college?

Student contribution:  savings, income and assets, summer job earnings, campus job (in the case of international students if visa allows student to work).

Parent contribution: savings and assets, income.

Scholarships/Grants and Merit Aid: The amount and type of aid depends on the college.  Not all colleges offer merit aid.

Loans: College Financial Aid packages may vary greatly in terms of amounts and mix of grants and various types of loans.

Families may be able to find outside scholarships and private loans.  It is recommended to start this process early.  Options require research and the details, such as loan repayment, need to be considered carefully.

What is a tuition discount?

When funds are awarded to a student as a grant or scholarship, which reduces the tuition for an accepted student.  These grants do not need to be repaid by the student to the college.

What are Need aid and Merit awards?

Financial Need is the difference between the Cost of Attendance (COA) and the Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

Only a few colleges are proud to offer Financial Aid to meet all demonstrated need, while most do not and expect families to make up the difference.

Merit awards are not typically originated in the FAO, but the FAO takes merit into account when making financial aid awards.

Merit awards are based on other factors than income such as athletics, grades, and academic interests.

Not all colleges give merit aid and some are more generous than others.

How is the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculated?

Depends on the methodology used by the college.  For US citizens there is a Federal Methodology (FM), based on the information from the Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA) which families complete to receive Federal and State financial aid.  FAFSA uses parent tax data from a student’s junior year.  Several factors such as family income and size, assets, number of children in college, and age of parents, are taken into account.

Some colleges go beyond the FAFSA and use an Institutional Methodology (IM) which is based on the information collected on the CSS/Financial Aid Profile developed by the College Board and/or college requested financial information, to receive institutional financial aid funds. The College Board has created an International Student Financial Aid Application (ISFA) to assist colleges collect financial information from international applicants.

What information is requested on the CSS & ISFA?

  1. General information about the student and their family
  2. Income and asset information
  3. General family expenses and expected sources of educational expenses for the student
  4. An opportunity exists to discuss special circumstances.