The Price of College is Not What You Actually Pay


Published:

Photo courtesy of shutterstock.com

If you’ve ever experienced a sudden, unexplained rise in your cable bill, you’ve probably experienced something like this: After calling the cable company and enduring 20 straight minutes of deafeningly loud advertisements for the latest sequel to "Horrible Bosses," you finally get an operator on the phone. You express your displeasure and threaten to switch to another company. Without hesitation, the representative immediately pitches you a new “limited time offer” that includes more channels for less money than you were originally paying. This offer wasn’t listed on the website or advertised anywhere, but must simply be reserved for irate customers with one foot out the door.

The lesson here is that cable companies are not exactly beacons of transparency — unfortunately, and this may surprise you — neither are colleges. Most college-bound students and their families eye the list price of a prospective school when deciding if it is a financially viable option. Yet, in the modern higher education marketplace, the list price and the net price, that is, what the average student actually pays, frequently have little to do with one another. Grasping the difference between the stated and actual tuition costs can revolutionize the way you shop for colleges and can greatly expand your economically sound post-secondary options.

Don’t believe the sticker price

If you shop for colleges the way you shop for other high-expense items  automobiles for example  you would be doing yourself a disservice and greatly limiting your options. While car dealers, like cable companies, are not exactly known for their straightforward pricing methods, we still enter a dealership with a general idea of what we can afford. If our budget allows us to target pre-owned Toyotas with a list price of  $14,000 and nothing a penny higher, then we can be pretty darn sure that even if we are the best negotiator in the entire world, the $40,000 Lexus in the same showroom is not going to be realistic option for us. Evaluating college costs, however, could not be a different ballgame.

Let’s look at the example of Beantown Barbara, a Massachusetts resident and accomplished high school student who would love to attend a small, private liberal arts school but is being told by her middle class parents that this is off the table unless she wants to take out massive loans. Barbara had been interested in high-caliber schools like Reed College in Portland, Oregon, Vassar in New York, or even Wellesley College, the prestigious women’s college right in her own backyard. Her SATs and grades are likely good enough to gain acceptance at all three, but she and her family are turned off by the Lexus-level pricing, as each school costs in excess of $40,000 per year in tuition alone. Wanting to avoid accumulating unnecessary undergraduate debt, Barbara decides that UMASS, at an in-state price of $14,-000, is probably her best bet.

Unbeknownst to Barbara and her family is that Reed, Vassar, and Wellesley  through generous merit and need-based aid opportunities  actually have average net-prices only slightly higher than UMASS. Amazingly, all three private schools have an average net price (again, what students actually pay) of under $20,000, under half of their respective sticker prices. That doesn’t mean that Beantown Barbara would have been offered exactly that price. It could have been higher,but it also could have been lower. Either way, it would have been worth applying and finding out.

Net price by income

Moving a few hours westward for a moment for our next example. As high school student in Ohio, Buckeye Bob finished in the top 10 percent of his class and kicked-butt on his last attempt at the ACT. His dream is to attend a selective liberal arts school somewhat close to home, preferably in Ohio. Bob shares with his parents that  his top choices are Oberlin, Kenyon, and College of Wooster. Bob’s parents beam with pride until they see the sticker price of these schools — all over $40,000 for tuition.

Bob’s parents are solidly middle class, earning $67,000 a year. The assume they are caught in financial aid no-man’s land, earning too much income to qualify for government grants but not enough to cover the steep tuition costs at a private school. Discouraged, Bob looks at Ohio’s state school options. He knows that he’ll be fine attending a school like Ohio State, Cleveland State, or The University of Akron, but he wishes there was some way he could have a shot at his true best-fit schools.

Fortunately for Bob, his guidance counselor understands the concept of net-price at private schools like Oberlin, Kenyon and The College of Wooster. These institutions tend to be generous with aid and take income strongly into consideration. While Oberlin has a sticker price of over $46,000 a year, the net price declines as you go down the income ladder. The average family whose income exceeds $110,000 pays a bit less than that at $40,000. Families making between $75,000-$110,000 get a sizable discount, with the average falling just below $26,000. Those with an income level in the $48,000-$75,000 range, like Buckeye Bob’s family, pay under $18,000 in tuition. At The College of Wooster, families in that income range pay a little over $16,000. Kenyon College’s average net price for a student like Bob comes in even lower at roughly $11,000.

Most of the state schools in Ohio cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 grand per year. Most likely, a university like Ohio State will still cost Bob less than his dream schools, but the revelation about net price may still have moved a school like Oberlin from a complete fantasy to a potential reality.

Don’t forget to select a quality financial safety school

Discovering the concept of net-price should lead you to radically alter the way you go about selecting target colleges — you should feel freed up to aim high and dream big. However, it is crucial to also come up with back-up plan that is a sure thing from a financial end. Most college-bound students are aware of the importance of having a “safety school,” an institution where obtaining admission is pretty darn close to a statistical guarantee. However, for anyone without unlimited funds, selecting a “financial safety school” may be of equal importance.

No one likes to consider doomsday scenarios, but if you thoughtfully selected a quality financial safety school, you can now breathe a little easier as you await financial and merit aid notifications from you top-choice schools. In our examples above, UMASS and Ohio State would have made perfectly good financial safety schools (assuming that they were also “safeties” from an academic standpoint) because they were affordable (even at 100 percent of the list price) and not schools that our sample students found undesirable. In picking a financial safety school, don’t just pick a random school that happens to be relatively inexpensive. Target a school that you would genuinely like to attend, considering for location, availability of majors of interest, extracurricular activities, etc.

Understanding that the list price and the net price are two very different concepts will help to broaden your college search and may just put your dream schools within financial reach. Don’t believe us? Call your cable company today and start enjoying the full gamut of premium channels for a fraction of the price. 

College Transitions recently published net price data for every selective institution in the United States. Please click here to view the list.

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Please visit our website—www.collegetransitions.com—to learn more.

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About This Blog

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Learn more at collegetransitions.com

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Telephone: 191-990-25432
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Cost: Free

Where:
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Cost: $35 per Student

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Cost: Free

Where:
Online
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View map »


Sponsor: Engage Art Contest
Telephone: 980-999-1447
Contact Name: Ranika Chaney
Website »

More information

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Cost: $11

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Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
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View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
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Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
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View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
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More information

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Cost: Free

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Online at your Home
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Sponsor: ActivityHero
Telephone: 800-437-6125
Contact Name: Mabelle
Website »

More information

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Cost: Donation Based

Where:
Online Classes
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Sponsor: Lionheart Fitness Kids
Telephone: 951-347-1555
Contact Name: Godfrey Griffin
Website »

More information

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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
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View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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More information

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Cost: FREE

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Crossroad Blvd
Suite 215
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View map »


Sponsor: Crossroads Plaza/ Kimco Realty
Telephone: 864-979-2291
Contact Name: Katie Earnhardt
Website »

More information

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Cost: $35 per Student

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View map »


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Contact Name: Roger Way
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More information

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Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Contact Name: Jenny Hill
Website »

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The Engage Art Contest is a juried competition for original Visual Art, Music Video, Film and Performing Arts. The topic is the Spiritual Battle described in Ephesians 6:10-20 and related...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
PO Box 78951
Charlotte, NC  28271
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Sponsor: Engage Art Contest
Telephone: 980-999-1447
Contact Name: Ranika Chaney
Website »

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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

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Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Live online classes for kids - FREE! Kids and families can join our online classes from home while school is out. Our special guests teach kids about art, medicine, music, cooking, science and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online at your Home
265 Cambridge Ave #60923
Palo Alto, NC  94306
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Sponsor: ActivityHero
Telephone: 800-437-6125
Contact Name: Mabelle
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

It's time to play... TAKEOUT BINGO!!!  Take a screenshot or download the game board. Mark off the locations you visit. Share your progress on Facebook and Instagram using #CRTakeoutBingo. Send...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Crossroads Plaza
Crossroad Blvd
Suite 215
Cary, NC  27518
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Sponsor: Crossroads Plaza/ Kimco Realty
Telephone: 864-979-2291
Contact Name: Katie Earnhardt
Website »

More information

We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

Art Walk featuring local galleries and artist studios in historic downtown Hillsborough on the Last Friday of every month (no Art Walk in December).

Cost: FREE

Where:
Downtown Hillsborough (multiple locations)
102 N. Churton St.
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Hillsborough Arts Council
Telephone: 919-643-2500
Contact Name: Torey Mishoe
Website »

More information

River Jam at the U.S. National Whitewater Center brings together live musical performances throughout the year to a one-of-a-kind outdoor venue, right in the middle of the world’s largest...

Cost: $6

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Contact Name: Jenny Hill
Website »

More information

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The Engage Art Contest is a juried competition for original Visual Art, Music Video, Film and Performing Arts. The topic is the Spiritual Battle described in Ephesians 6:10-20 and related...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
PO Box 78951
Charlotte, NC  28271
View map »


Sponsor: Engage Art Contest
Telephone: 980-999-1447
Contact Name: Ranika Chaney
Website »

More information

Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Farmers markets are essential to the livelihood of farmers and food producers and are exempt from the Governor's Stay at Home Order (page 6). Farmers markets offer an efficient way for residents to...

Cost: free

Where:
Holly Springs Cultural Center
300 W. Ballentine St.
Holly Springs, NC  27540
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Sponsor: Farmers Market Coordinator
Telephone: 919-567-4010
Website »

More information

PARENTS JOIN OUR DHHS APPROVEDCPR/AED & First Aid Certification ClassesFoster parents are required to be CPR & First Aid certified. Parents, bring your child to class with you. Children 10 years...

Cost: 50-80

Where:
Holly Springs, NC
1001 Silverstone Way
Holly Springs, NC  27540
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Sponsor: Save A Life Now Training Center LLC
Telephone: 919-215-6942
Contact Name: Valentina Cordoba
Website »

More information

PARENTS JOIN OUR DHHS APPROVEDCPR/AED & First Aid Certification ClassesFoster parents are required to be CPR & First Aid certified. Must register in advance. Space is limited. Parents, bring your...

Cost: 50-80

Where:
Holly Springs, NC
1001 Silverstone Way
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Sponsor: Save A Life Now Training Center LLC
Telephone: 919-215-6942
Contact Name: Valentina Cordoba
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Live online classes for kids - FREE! Kids and families can join our online classes from home while school is out. Our special guests teach kids about art, medicine, music, cooking, science and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online at your Home
265 Cambridge Ave #60923
Palo Alto, NC  94306
View map »


Sponsor: ActivityHero
Telephone: 800-437-6125
Contact Name: Mabelle
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Join one of our talented Mid-South Fencers’ Club coaches for a one hour virtual lesson to the fast paced and exciting sport of Olympic Fencing! This will be a FREE ONLINE class. All you need is...

Cost: free

Where:
Mid-South Fencers' Club ONLINE
125 N. Gregson St.
DURHAM, NC  27701
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Sponsor: Mid-South Fencers' Club
Telephone: 919-286-3100
Contact Name: Jeff Kallio
Website »

More information

It's time to play... TAKEOUT BINGO!!!  Take a screenshot or download the game board. Mark off the locations you visit. Share your progress on Facebook and Instagram using #CRTakeoutBingo. Send...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Crossroads Plaza
Crossroad Blvd
Suite 215
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Sponsor: Crossroads Plaza/ Kimco Realty
Telephone: 864-979-2291
Contact Name: Katie Earnhardt
Website »

More information

We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

The Beaver Queen Pageant is the Triangle’s own special mix of folly, pageantry, and humor. Contestants take on beaver personalities and compete for the title of Beaver Queen with their fashion,...

Cost: free

Where:
Online
, NC


Sponsor: Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
Telephone: 919-698-9729
Contact Name: Rachel Cohn
Website »

More information

River Jam at the U.S. National Whitewater Center brings together live musical performances throughout the year to a one-of-a-kind outdoor venue, right in the middle of the world’s largest...

Cost: $6

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Contact Name: Jenny Hill
Website »

More information

Get your summer vibes going at the 1st Annual Hubb’s Beach Blast at Hubb’s Farm in Clinton, NC.  Hubb’s Beach Blast will feature two of beach music industry’s top groups, Jim Quick and...

Cost: 20-50

Where:
Hubb's Farm
10276 US HWY 421 N
Clinton, NC  28328
View map »


Sponsor: Hubb's Farm
Telephone: 910-564-6709
Contact Name: Tammy Peterson
Website »

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