College Costs and Finances

What are Current College Costs?

According to Smart Money magazine, tuition for students at a state college or university in their resident state averages $7,000 per year. Private college tuition averages around $37,000 a year with the most expensive school being as much as $50,000 per year.

The College Board reports similar figures:

  • For public four-year institutions, in-state tuition and fees averaged $8,655, a 4.8 percent increase over last year.
  • For private four-year institutions, in-state tuition and fees averaged $29,056, a 4.2 percent increase over last year.


Source: Barron’s

What Are You Expected to Pay?

The good news is that most colleges are willing to work with students who qualify for their programs to make college affordable. Many Ivy League schools don’t expect families with combined incomes of under $60,000/year to take on loans or pay anything at all. Princeton has instituted a “no loans” policy for all students. Often what a family pays will be far below the college’s “sticker price” depending on their income. The net price of the school is the total cost of the college with any grants, scholarships, or non-loan financial aid awards subtracted. These are discounts that you don’t have to pay back. According to the College Board, the average net price - what a family really pays - at a four-year public university is $2,910 - an almost $6,000 discount from the published price.

What’s the First Step?

Your first step in finding financial aid should be to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA is used to apply for federal student aid such as grants, student loans, and college work-study. Most states and colleges use FAFSA information to award their financial aid. The entire application can be completed online via an easy to understand walk-through at

Once you’ve completed the FAFSA, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) from the US Department of Education. This is a confirmation of the information you entered on the FAFSA; make sure to check it for errors! The front page of the SAR will show your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This number is used by colleges and universities to determine the amount of your financial aid. Some colleges will also require the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE to determine outside sources of funding besides the federal government; you can fill out the PROFILE here.

For more information on financial aid eligibility, the PDF “2012–13 Funding Your Education: The Guide to Federal Student Aid” is a good source of information.

Be sure to look closely at the deadlines for the FAFSA. And be aware that deadlines for your state or your college may be different than the federal deadlines.