March 14, 2018

Breaking Down College Costs for Your Child

High school students cannot wrap their head around how much college currently costs, this exercise will put college costs into perspective.

When my parents started talking to me about college, money came up right away. I am from a middle-class home, so current college costs are a stretch for families like mine.

Before the conversation got too serious or I became too attached to a school, my mom did an exercise with me that shaped every decision I made while I was in school. It helped me plan my time, understand the value of my education, and take academics more seriously than I ever had before. Before my mother did this with me, her father did it with her, so I am passing on a little family secret to help your prospective college student gain perspective and motivation.

Break down college costs with your child in order to give them a better understanding of their tuition bill.

Why is this necessary?

To a high school student, $1,000 is a lot of money. It is hard for 16 or 17-year-olds to wrap their heads around a $40,000 a year. It is an abstract number; they have not touched that much money over their lifetime, let alone for a singular experience.

Your child likely does not know how much money runs through your household a year, how much you have saved, and what paying for college will do to your budget or how much debt they will be in. Helping break this cost down into understandable chunks will motivate them to work harder and set them up for a future of financial stability.

The Theory

The theory, that has worked with two generations in my family so far, is that if you break a student’s college experience down to how much a skipped hour costs the student or their family, they will skip less. If the student understands how much a class costs, they will choose smart classes they find useful.

Overall, the thought is that your student has a deeper understanding of how far $100 goes and they think anything over $100 is expensive. If you break down their tuition so each individual class attended costs over $100, they will have a better understanding of their tuition and take advantage of their education.

The Exercise

In an excel spreadsheet or with a pen, paper, and a calculator, you are going to collect the data needed to determine the cost of each individual class, each hour your student spends in class, and how much a ‘credit’ costs. If your child will be living in college, include room and board. Even though that money is not used on the academic process, your student would not live there if they were not enrolled in a full semester of classes.

1.     Collecting your data:

•   Have your child pick a college they like. For that school, find the:

•   Tuition with room and board, if your child is expected to reside at school at least one year

•   How many classes fulfill that number of credits

•   Number of credits expected per semester to be considered full time and to graduate on time

•   How many hours to complete a class: check out the college schedule, generally around 40 hours per 3 credit class, 35 to pass

•   How many hours will be spent in class: multiply hours to complete a class by the number of classes

2.     Do the  math:

•   Semester/Quarterly Tuition: Divide your yearly tuition in by the number of semesters or quarters

•   Cost of each class: Divide your semester tuition by the number of classes needed or expected in a semester

•   Cost of each credit: Divide your semester tuition by the number of credits needed or expected in a semester

•   Cost of an hour in every class in one semester: Divide your semester tuition by the number of hours needed or expected to complete a class in a semester

•   Cost of each hour in each class per semester: Divide your semester tuition by the number of hours needed in a semester for all of the classes

How Much College Costs per Class

 This examples uses data from Siena College .
This example uses data from Siena College.


The Conversation

Your future college student will have a deeper understanding of what it costs to go to college. If you are paying for their college, this is a great time to explain to them that you are investing in their future. That each class they skip, even if it is permitted by the professor and syllabi, is money wasted.

In my case, each time I skipped a class, I wasted $140.87 of my parent’s money, my loans, and the college’s money as this is the aggregated data for my college tuition not including the federal aid and scholarships that helped get me through college.

Your future college student should also wrap their heads around what this money pays for. Even though we broke it down by class, their tuition pays their professors to help them during office hours, so they should take advantage of that. Tuition costs are used to fund sports teams, activities, student governance, clubs, buildings like the library, etc.. If they do not get involved on their campus or utilize the resources provided, they are wasting money.

Are you sure your child has chosen a college that is the right financial fit for your family? Sign up for College Factual and find the right college fit.

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