What's the real cost of attending?
We tend to fixate on the tuition, but the fact is college students incur a range of costs, from room and board to books and lab fees. And most students need some spending money. But if you're looking to compare prices based on an award letter, you might find it difficult.
"Every college publishes a cost-of-attendance figure that includes hard costs like tuition, fees, and room and board, (as well as) soft costs like books, transportation and living expenses," says Joseph Orsolini, president of College Aid Planners in Glen Ellyn, Ill. "Some colleges will use the hard cost only in their award letters, while others show the full cost-of-attendance figure."
To get an apples-to-apples comparison, Orsolini suggests comparing only hard costs because every school provides those figures. Still, parents and students shouldn't ignore soft costs.
"Some students look past the other costs, but you will still spend money on books and personal expenses," says Steve Booker, director of financial aid at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. "Knowing what these estimated costs are and what options are available may help you minimize these costs."