Do you know what college really costs? Find out here!

Between the fees you don’t expect, dorming versus commuting, and financial aid, the simplest way to understand the cost of higher education now is to know this: it varies.  Different factors impact what you’ll be paying out of pocket for your child’s education, including the school’s location, your location, and what you can receive in financial aid.

In-State vs. Out-of-State

You probably already know that you can expect to pay less in college tuition if your child chooses a school in your state of residency.  But how much of an effect does that really have?  It may shock you.  For the 2011-2012 school year, Rutgers University in NJ can run an out-of-state student more than $35,000 in base tuition per semester, while NJ residents are looking at a number closer to $23,000 for the same education.  Penn State University’s handy tuition calculator (available at estimates a PA resident’s cost at around $13,000 per semester, while non-PA residents can anticipate an $18,000 plus price tag.  In New York, the SUNY system’s tuition starts around $20,000 for a state resident, and upwards of $28,000 for non-NY residents.  These figures are estimates, and include costs of housing for students who wish to dorm.  Though cost of attendance fluctuates between states, field of study, and type of school, it is clear that an out-of-state school will cost more in tuition and fees than a college in your child’s state of residency – sometimes nearly twice as much.

Resident vs. Commuter

So maybe you and your child decide on an in-state school to combat pricy tuitions for out-of-staters.  There’s still another way to cut down on costs.  The figures above include housing, but if you live within commuting distance to a college, you have more options.  For a student to commute to a college, you are getting a break on base tuition and also avoiding costs of housing and meal plans.  The added costs will be parking and gas, if your child drives, or a bus or train pass if they choose public transportation.  These costs are minimal compared to a few thousand dollars per semester for a dorm room.  With multiple campuses throughout the state in the SUNY system, a commuter student can have their pick and pay as little as $13,000 per semester.  Penn State also has a number of campuses throughout the state, where your child could commute to and face tuitions around $6,000 per semester.  In NJ, students who commute to one of Rutgers’ campuses can see tuitions around $12,000.  Commuting may be a great option for your child who is looking to save a couple of bucks but still get a great education.  Most colleges have commuter lounges and encourage commuters and residents alike to get involved in their campus, offering activities and clubs for everyone’s convenience.  Encourage your child to weigh pros and cons of dorming versus commuting and the impact either one may have on your wallets.

When Financial Aid Kicks in

The figures above estimate base costs of a semester at a New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania University.  It is clear that commuting to an in-state school comes with the lowest tuition bill, but that doesn’t mean you and your child can’t afford an out-of-state school.  The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) unlocks financial aid options for residents and commuters, and can save you thousands of dollars per semester in tuition.  If eligible, it may be possible to pay the price tag of commuting to an in-state school for an out-of-state school, thanks to the various loans and grants available.

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