The real cost of college


Behind the Ellipsis

College is expensive, y’all.

Listen up, kids. If there were ever a time for you to put those reading skills to use, it’s now. If you want to go to college, you’ve got to get one thing straight: it’s expensive. Like, forfeit-that-house-you- planned-on-purchasing-in-your- early-thirties expensive. And even those of you out there who are doomed to believe you can afford the price of a four-year post-high school education because your parents have been saving since your birth have reason to fret. So listen up, and listen good, because I’m about to let you all in on some insider intel, and you’re gonna want to remember it.

If you’re a hard-working kid who seems predestined for some academic scholarships or a superstar athlete with a killer 50 freestyle time, then you may have been lead to believe that all of that college scholarship money is within your grasp. Well, you thought wrong. Depending on which colleges you plan on applying to (some offer good merit and athletic aid), chances are you won’t receive financial assistance, or at least to the degree that you need. College is expensive, folks, and there’s a reason why universities charge so much: because people will pay.

If you want to be able to afford college, here’s where you need to start paying attention. Start applying for scholarships. Now. I don’t care whether you’re a first-grader or a high school senior a month away from graduating. Apply. If you want to graduate from college debt-free (which means not paying off students loans into your mid-forties), apply for as many scholarships as possible. Search everywhere for these hidden gems—the local library, your parents’ workplaces, school (the College and Career Center, specifically)…everywhere.

To beef up those scholarship and college applications, do a ton of clubs and activities, gaining leadership positions in most of them. Start your own company, or open a non-profit. College admissions and scholarship committees award students with a track record of success, so if you have a superb resumé to flaunt, perfect. If you secure a job or two, don’t dump that cash on food—save it. Some for college, some for retirement… Something that will benefit you in the future. You could even invest in stocks if you’re brave enough.

Unless you’re loaded, tuition at out-of-state and private colleges is crazy expensive. You’re looking at anywhere from $240,000 to $304,000 for your college education, and that’s if you can graduate in four years. At competitive colleges, you’re looking at closer to graduating in 5 years, which means forking over an additional $60,000-$76,000 from your empty savings account. If you want to afford college, aim lower, especially if you’re a stellar student or athlete. Stay in-state or apply to private universities with higher acceptance rates (around 40-60%). Those institutions are your best shot at scholarships, and especially at the holy grail of aid packages: the full-ride.

If you’ve stuck with me through this entire article, you’re dedicated to graduating debt-free (or with minimal debt), which is important if you plan to attend grad school. These days, most high-paying jobs require a master’s degree, so graduate school (which means another 1-5 years of college tuition) is likely in your future. Avoid racking up those debt dollars while pursuing your undergraduate degree so you don’t have to pay off as much debt once you’ve completed your college education. Or, you can always go the community college route and transfer to a university for your junior year. That’s a real money-saver.

Don’t be disappointed at your college prospects because of my negative outlook at college prices. If you’re a stellar student, you might have a shot at scholarships from those top-tier schools. Stay on top of deadlines, as those scholarships usually require you to submit your college applications by December 1st, if not sooner. Do plenty of research on colleges before you apply, start early on your applications (at least three months in advance), and secure a minimum of three adults who could write you a solid letter of recommendation. As the days of your high school career evaporate one by one, do one thing: apply for scholarships!