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Paying for college can be a challenge, especially if you don't know what you're up against. The cost of a college education can vary based on a number of factors, such as the school you attend, how many years it takes to obtain a degree, living expenses and more. On average, annual college tuition costs range from $10,740 to $38,070, while total cost of attendance averages $55,800 per year.
Breaking down the average cost of college can help you get a better idea of what to expect, so you can plan for what's ahead. Here's everything you need to know about the average cost of college.
What Are the Average College Costs for College?
Tuition is generally the expense that gets most of the attention when it comes to the cost of attending a college or university. But it's far from the only expense to consider. In addition to outlining the cost of tuition and fees, colleges also provide a total cost of attendance, which includes room and board, transportation, supplies and equipment and other personal expenses.
Here's a quick summary of both the average cost of tuition and overall cost of attendance based on school type for the 2021-22 school year:
|Average College Costs for 2021-2022|
|School Type||Average Annual Tuition||Average Annual Total Cost of Attendance|
|Public four-year in-state||$10,740||$27,330|
|Public four-year out-of-state||$27,560||$44,150|
|Public two-year in-district||$3,800||$18,830|
|Private nonprofit four-year||$38,070||$55,800|
Keep in mind that these figures are for undergraduate students only. If you want to obtain a graduate degree, costs can vary widely depending on the type of program you enter.
How to Borrow Less in College
Multiplying average annual college costs by four years can be jarring to any student preparing to begin their college journey. For the majority of college students, student loans are a necessary evil to help them get through school. And they could be paying on those loans for many years after graduation. According to Experian data, the average student loan balance was $39,487 in the third quarter of 2021.
If you're still in college or you're planning to attend soon, research different ways that you can pay for school without resorting to student loans. You may still need to rely on student loans to cover some of your costs, but reducing how much you borrow now can pay significant dividends in the future.
Here are some potential ways you can borrow less for your college education:
- Pick a less expensive school: You don't need to attend a university with a household name to get a quality education. And for many students, it's worth it to complete general education and elective courses at a community college then transfer to a four-year school to complete degree-related coursework.
- Look for scholarships and grants: Make sure you fill out the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each school year. Your school's financial aid office will use this information to determine whether you qualify for a Pell Grant and possibly even needs-based scholarships. Additionally, check with your school to see which scholarships are available, and use databases like Scholarships.com and Fastweb to search for scholarships and grants from private organizations. These options are among the best ways to pay for college because you typically don't have to repay them.
- Get help from your employer: Some employers offer to pay for some or all of your college tuition through a tuition reimbursement program. This likely won't cover other necessary educational expenses, but it can cut your costs significantly. If you foresee a career in the military, joining one of its branches can be another solid choice.
- Work a part-time job: If you can work in college without sacrificing your grades, the income you earn can help cover any of the costs associated with attending college.
How to Pay Off Student Loans
Regardless of how much student debt you take on to get through school, it's important to have a good strategy to pay it off. Here are some strategies that can help you achieve your goal of eliminating your student debt faster while saving money on interest along the way.
Start Paying Immediately
You'll generally get a six-month grace period after you graduate from school, but if you have a job lined up and can afford it, consider starting to make payments during that grace period.
This will help you pay down the interest that accrued on your debt since it was disbursed, helping to cut down how much of it gets added to your principal balance once your repayment period officially begins.
Make Extra Payments
If your budget allows, pay more than the minimum amount required every month. If you have loans with different interest rates, consider putting your extra payments toward the loans with the highest interest rates first. This can help maximize your interest savings.
If your budget doesn't have much room for extra payments, consider looking for ways to earn extra money through a side hustle, a second job, overtime hours or odd jobs. Opportunities can vary based on your situation, but even a little extra money every month can go a long way over time.
There are many jobs out there that can help you pay off your student loans. For example, if you work for a government agency or an eligible nonprofit organization, you may qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. The Teacher Loan Forgiveness program is another option if you're planning a career in education.
Government agencies also provide student loan repayment assistance programs for those who serve in the military or work in health care, education, public defense and more. Finally, 17% of private employers offer some form of student loan repayment assistance to their employees, according to a survey performed by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, with 31% more saying they have plans to offer the benefit.
Refinance Your Student Loans
If you have high-interest student loans and your credit score and income are in good shape, refinancing your loans could potentially save you money. Refinancing with a private lender can potentially help you secure a lower interest rate than what you're currently paying.
It can also give you more flexibility with your payments. Just keep in mind that refinancing federal loans will cause you to lose access to forgiveness programs and income-driven repayment plans, which may not be worth it in many cases.
Start Building Credit in College to Prepare for Your Future
As a college student, you can get federal student loans without a credit check. But once you graduate, you may need to borrow money for larger purchases like a home or a car. Instead of waiting until you're out of school, consider starting the process of building your credit history now.
You can start with a student credit card or even as an authorized user on a parent's credit card account. Using Experian Go™, you can also get access to other resources to help you learn how to build credit and even get access to your credit score and Experian credit report to keep track of your progress.