By Paul Culp, MA (Oxon.), CFT, GCDF, CCSP
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 far, far 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. We have even heard about students who commit themselves to college with only a dim conception of what their financial aid packages actually cover, and the resultant disappointment can lead to angry editorial writing. To avoid being an angry editorial writer, at least on this topic, please consider the following:
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. To learn more about our philosophy and capabilities, be sure to watch our free webinars, listen to our podcasts, sign up for our four-week College App Boot Camp, consider our Ultimate Programs and our special services for athletes and performing-arts students, and book a consultation to hear what we can do for you and how we do it. Keep reading this blog, and look for us on social media (see links below) as we keep our clients and admirers advised of new developments in our effort to help students get into and succeed at the right school.
Paul Culp is certified as a global career development facilitator and writes about college admissions, college costs, financial aid, and college life in general for The Coaching Educator team. A former journalist and corporate ghostwriter who now operates Shenandoah Proofreading, Editing & Composition Services (SPECS), he has also been a humanities teacher at all levels from university down to sixth grade. Paul has degrees from Oxford University, Jacksonville State University, and Samford University, and also is certified as a fitness trainer.
Recommended Reading About College Admissions and College Costs
Culp, Paul. “An Arm and a Leg and Your First-born Child: Why College Costs So Much,” The Coaching Educator, 6 September 2018, http://thecoachingeducator.com/2018/09/06/an-arm-and-a-leg-and-your-first-born-child-why-college-costs-so-much/
Culp, Paul. “Eat Your Alphabet Soup: FAFSA, EFC, COA, and Other Delights,” The Coaching Educator, 6 November 2018, http://thecoachingeducator.com/2018/11/06/eat-your-alphabet-soup-fafsa-efc-coa-and-other-delights/
Culp, Paul. “Types of Financial Aid: A Very Short Primer,” The Coaching Educator, 14 September 2018, http://thecoachingeducator.com/2018/09/14/types-of-financial-aid-a-very-short-primer/