Unless you’ve been living as a hermit in Tibet (Welcome home!) you’ve heard all about the increasing difficulty of paying for college. If you’re a parent or student, you’ve probably heard about it with fear and trembling. Tuition has been rising faster than inflation, and with that particular monster stalking the land, it’s easy to forget about the other, less obvious costs of college–expenses that make scholarships and grants even more important as means of reducing the overall bill.
Your Mileage May Vary: the Cost of Getting to College
Richard Nixon, a poor boy from California, was offered a tuition grant to attend Harvard but couldn’t afford the 3,000-mile train ride. His hometown college, though highly reputable, wasn’t of Ivy League caliber, and we can be reasonably sure that those unmet travel costs changed history. Maybe the stakes won’t be as high in your case, but transportation can be a major problem in the matter of paying for college.
If you’re interested in going far from home, even visits to colleges can constitute a significant expense. If you decide on a distant venue, you’ll need to consider how often you’ll want to come home, and how you’ll do it. Air travel is obviously costly, but going by automobile means fuel costs, wear on tires and other components, meals along the way, and possibly lodging. Trains and buses might or not be viable alternatives, depending on where you go. And on a related note…
The Cost of Getting Around at College
Will you be able to walk everywhere? Use public transit? Bicycle? Scooter? Skateboard? Motorcycle? Automobile? Over the span of four years, transportation options can make a significant difference in the cost of college. If you’re fortunate enough to have a car, remember that it will need regular maintenance; if you wait until something goes wrong to give your car attention, you’ll pay more than you would’ve if you’d maintained it properly all along.
The Cost of Just Being at College
Once again our 37th president provides an interesting example: During much of his time in law school at Duke University, Richard Nixon lived in an abandoned tool shed. He showered at the university gym and kept a shaving kit hidden in the library to help him fight the five-o’clock shadow that would infamously help cost him the presidency in 1960. Determined fellow, Nixon, but we don’t recommend living in a tool shed any more than we recommend looking bad on television.
You’ll probably have to choose from more conventional options: dormitory, apartment, room rental, etc., none of them free unless your scholarship goes beyond tuition. You’ll also need meals and snacks, which leads to choices about cafeteria plans, whether to rent lodgings with cooking facilities, whether you’ll need a mini-fridge and coffee maker and other small appliances. Don’t forget household items like sheets and towels, or the need to launder them (and maybe your clothing once in a while). Consider how convenient (or not) it will be to haul groceries around (see transportation). The more difficult it is to carry groceries, the more likely it is that you’ll spend more money on convenience foods and eating out. And the matter of eating at college leads us to…
The Cost of Not Losing Your Mind at College
All work and no play would make Jack (insert Kennedy reference here to balance out the Nixonia) a very peculiar sort of college student. Going to college and never eating out would be extremely unpleasant. There are of course many other forms of entertainment on offer in college towns, some more wholesome than others. You’ll need to consider how much self-discipline you need–and how much you actually have. One way or the other, all work and no play isn’t good for you. Which leads us to…
Tell Us Where it Hurts: the Cost of Being Sick at College
Bring people from all over the country and all over the world to the same place. Mix them together in classrooms and libraries and dorms and eating establishments. Maybe have them share keyboards sometimes. Get them to socialize. See to it that they (at least some of them) work hard, and make sure they keep irregular hours. Hooray! It’s the Collegiate Immune System Challenge!
A recently retired professor at a large Southern university told this writer that he had seen a sharp increase in respiratory ailments among students during his forty years in teaching in the same institution, and he suggested that the school’s growth from a regional to a national and international draw was a large factor. None of this is to be taken lightly as a marginal concern: witness the flu epidemic of late 2017 and early 2018.
If you need medical attention in college, does the institution have a student health plan that will meet your needs? Are you covered by your family’s health insurance? If so, are the health-care practitioners near your college in your insurance plan’s network? Do you have a chronic condition that requires regular care?
Help! The Cost of Not Blowing College Completely
There’s no shame in needing tutoring, but it’s a good idea to know ahead of time which tutoring services the college provides and which you’ll have to pay for on your own. If you’re one of those fortunate souls (or brains) who can be on the giving end rather than the receiving end, good for you.
Enough Already: Paying for Getting out of College
In certain great universities overseas, it is impossible even to enroll, let alone graduate, without wearing highly respectable business clothing, but in the board-shorts-under-the-gown culture of American academe, it is often possible to navigate one’s entire collegiate experience as a sartorial free spirit (known in some circles as a slob). But then it’s time for job interviews, and you have to ask yourself: “Do my sweats and flip-flops and belly-button ring measure up?” The answer probably will be “no.”
So you’ll need to be sure you have some interview-ready duds. If you’re planning on graduate or professional school, you’ll most likely need that same interview outfit, along with the money to research programs and apply to them and make visits and take the necessary tests. (Hint: Talk to The Coaching Educator about how to pay for the next round of education.) And don’t forget the fees some schools charge for participating in the commencement ceremony and actually receiving a diploma.
Fortune Favors the Bold
We bring these unpleasant matters to your attention in order to underline the already-obvious importance of securing as much financial aid as possible. The more help you can get with tuition and fees and books, and perhaps on-campus housing, the more comfortable you’ll be in dealing with all of the things that a financial aid package doesn’t cover.
It’s essential to start early, even as early as ninth grade. Admissions and financial aid are extremely complex nowadays, and we recommend expert assistance. Please contact The Coaching Educator for more information on getting into and succeeding at the right college.
Paul Culp has degrees from Oxford University, Jacksonville State University, and Samford University. A former journalist, he has also taught academic writing and research methods at the university level and an assortment of humanities courses at the secondary level, and now writes for The Coaching Educator team.