Although there’s no magic number to answer the “how much does college cost?” question – because so many factors are involved – there are official estimates available from authoritative sources, such as the College Board.
As a guideline, we’ve compared some key current average costs between public and private universities, based on research from the College Board and College Data conducted in 2014. These comparisons may help you to more easily plan and budget for your child’s college education:
Tuition and Fees
Tuition is the amount charged by colleges and universities for enrollment in classes. Depending on your child’s selected course of study, the cost of tuition may be higher or lower, and it varies by institution. In comparison, fees are the amount that colleges and universities automatically charge for the use of certain services and facilities (such as the library, gymnasium, campus bus system, etc.), whether your child uses them or not. The fees vary depending on the institution.
Public 4-year, in-state university: $9,139
Private 4-year, nonprofit: $31,231
Room and Board
Room and board is based on the estimated cost of on-campus housing and meal plans, and it can vary depending the college or university. Most institutions also can provide estimates for the cost of off-campus housing and meals.
Public 4-year, in-state university: $9,804
Private 4-year, nonprofit: $11,188
Books and School Supplies
Books can be expensive to buy, sometimes very expensive. Less expensive options exist through textbook rental companies and by purchasing used books. In addition, it’s good to factor in the cost of a laptop among supplies.
Public 4-year, in-state university: $1,146
Private 4-year, nonprofit: $1,244
Personal and Transportation Expenses
Be sure to budget for personal and transportation expenses, which could cover anything from entertainment, toiletries and gasoline expenses. Include anything else that you might think applicable, such as costs associated with a sports team, social organization, fitness club or campus activities.
Public 4-year, in-state university: $3,242
Private 4-year, nonprofit: $2,609
To keep the cost of college in perspective, it’s important to evaluate the difference between the net price and the published price of college. For example, if your child receives a scholarship or if your family qualifies for financial aid, this can significantly bring down the cost of college.
Additionally, it’s important to start to save early and consistently, so that when the time comes to send your child to college, you’ll both be ready.