top of page

Part 1: Paying for College

Listen to the podcast HERE.

College is expensive and paying for college is a real concern for most families. The process is a lot to navigate and it can be overwhelming. There is a lot of terminology and a lot of data to consider.

The COA or Cost of Attendance is the total cost to attend college, not just the cost of tuition. People often focus on tuition not realizing how expensive other costs are and then are surprised by the actual total cost. The COA includes not just tuition and fees but also room and board, books and supplies, transportation, etc. You want to focus on the COA not just the cost of tuition.

College has both a sticker price and a net price. The sticker price is the published cost on a school's website. The net price is the actual cost paid after aid is applied. Schools have a net price calculator on their website to give you an estimate. It's important to remember that while private colleges are generally more expensive than public, they usually have more funds available for aid. Don't rule out a private school right away. Check out their net price calculator to see if it could be a good option.

In order to qualify for financial aid, you must fill out the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal student Aid. (Note: future episodes and blogs will go more in depth on this topic) The importance of mentioning the FAFSA here is that the FAFSA will give you your EFC, Expected Family Contribution. The information you provide on the FAFSA will determine the amount fo your EFC. This is the dollar amount that your family is expected to be able to provide towards the cost of attendance. If you do not receive aid for the difference between the COA and your EFC this is called gapping. This difference is often covered with student loans (student loans will be discussed in more depth in a future podcast and blog).

When I am speaking of aid, I am referring to one of two types: 1. Needs Based aid is grants and scholarships that are awarded based on a family's ability to pay. 2. Non-Needs Based aid is awarded on merit.

Let's look at some published average Costs of Attendance, the sticker prices. Note: These are nationwide averages provided by

4 Year In State Public College:

Average Annual COA: $25,707

4 Year Degree Total: $102,828

4 Year Out of State Public College:

Average Annual COA: $43,421

4 Year Degree Total: $173,684

4 Year Non Profit Private College:

Average Annual COA: $54,501

4 Year Degree: $218,004

4 Year For Profit Private College:

Average Annual COA: $33,528

4 Year Degree: $134,112

What are some options to bring the total cost of the 4 year degree down? Online degrees are an option depending on the desired field of study. Students can remain living at home and save on living costs as well. Not all online tuition is cheaper than in person but some schools specialize in online programs and they generally have lower online tuition than in person programs.

Community college programs are on the rise. Many offer classes that students can take while still in high school and agin college credits. Many also have programs where general undergraduate class credits transfer to a 4 year college. This allows a student to remain at home for a year or two, knock out some core credits, while paying an average of about $1865 per semester. This can also be a good option for a student that is undecided about their field of study.

High school college counselors or your local community college should be able to provide more information on program options in your area.

So remember that the sticker price is not necessarily the net price you will pay. You can explore the net price calculators for various schools early on in your search. Be sure to fill out the FAFSA early. It's available beginning October 1 for the following school year. It will provide your EFC and help guide the financial aid process.

Start working on that plan to pay for college as early as you can. Be sure to check out the future podcasts and blogs for more information!

Note: All information is education in nature and is not financial advice.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page