Alice Murphey: Financial Aid Expert

Filling the Bill

March 29, 2011

Filling the Bill

What does college really cost? Ah, that’s the million-dollar question.

The short answer is that it depends on three factors: where you go, how much financial aid you get and how carefully you budget. You’ll need to think hard about those three questions as you explore and proceed with, the process of applying for, and hopefully receiving, financial aid.

A year of college won’t cost a million, but it could be pricey. According to the latest annual survey from the College Board, which tracks higher-education trends, the average cost of a year of private college for 2010-11 is $36,993. There are more expensive, well-known private schools and out-of-state public universities, where your tuition will be higher, and you’ll have to pay for housing.

There are less costly choices, too, like The City University of New York, which has four-year colleges and community colleges where most of the students can live at home while studying. And there are special programs.

High-achieving students admitted to CUNY’s William E. Macaulay Honors College, for instance, receive not only free tuition but a $7,500 academic stipend and a laptop.

When you are figuring out what a particular college will cost, look beyond its admissions materials, which may only list tuition, fees and room and board.  If you are doing your research online, make sure that the costs are updated. Colleges are notorious for leaving prior-year tuition and fees online after tuition has gone up.