College Cost Calculator

How Much Does College Cost?

The College Cost Calculator can help determine rough estimates of what to expect from college costs, and in turn how much to begin budgeting. For anyone with specific colleges in mind, the College Navigator can be used to get more precise annual college costs data. This calculator is mainly intended for U.S.

Today's annual college costs: or
College cost increase rate:5% recommended
Expected college attendance duration:years
Percent of costs from savings: 
College savings balance now:amount saved so far
Interest or investment return rate: 
Tax rate on interest or investment return:Including federal, state, and local tax
use 0% for 529 plan savings
College will start in:years

RelatedStudent Loan Calculator | Budget Calculator


Average Annual U.S. College Cost, Including Tuition, Fee, and Living Cost for 2017-2018
4-year private:$50,900
4-year public (in-state):$25,290
4-year public (out-of-state):$40,940
2-year public:$17,580

source: the college board, click here for school specific information.

Individual College Cost Calculators

It is now required under U.S. law that every college and university have an online net price calculator. It's important to use these tools only as rough estimates of the amount required for each prospective institution because although they often consider potential to receive financial aid, there are many other considerations that haven't been accounted for. Also, many of them do things differently. Be extremely precise when arriving at final figures for comparison. This is a great first step on the path towards determining just how much to stick into the college piggy bank, and our College Cost Calculator can be used in conjunction with our Student Loan Calculator as support in making decisions.

How Much Does College Cost?

For most people, the answer is a lot. So much in fact, it's rare for people to pay for higher education entirely with straight cash. There is usually financial support, whether through kind parents who began a college piggy bank very early, scholarship, grant, some form of subsidized loan from the federal government, and/or other sources.

In its most recent survey of college pricing, the College Board reported that the average college budget for an in-state public college for the 2017-2018 academic year was about $25,000. A moderate budget at a private college averaged about $50,000. These estimates include tuition, which are expenses associated with academic instruction, and fees, charges for specific services such as internet access. The figures include many other expenses associated with going to college: housing, transportation, meals, books, school supplies, and miscellaneous add-ons for outings and other things that are part of higher education at most schools.

Calculating Financial Aid

Applications at various colleges are likely to include an application to Federal Student Aid FSA, the government agency that administers many types of federal financial aid programs.

The key to the entire process, and the place to start, is the calculation of an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is the expected amount of money a family can contribute to paying for college, and is based on many factors including income and assets.

Individual colleges apply the EFC to their own fee structures to assess individual, demonstrated financial need, which is determined by the difference between the cost of a particular college and an applicant's EFC. If EFC is $7,000, and a given college costs $10,000 per year, there is a good chance of receiving $3,000 per year in financial aid. If the college costs $20,000 per year, there can be $10,000 in aid, or just part of that sum.

Each college of application will put together personalized financial aid packages, which shows how an individual college plans to meet the financial need of the student. An individual who applies to three different colleges will receive three different financial aid packages from each.

Financial aid is widely available, and taking the time to work through the evaluation process can potentially lead to some financial aid that one may not have received otherwise.

Types of Financial Aid

There are three basic types of financial aid: loans, scholarships, or work-study. Each type of financial aid may be offered by federal or state programs, by private agencies, or by private firms. Conditions, of course, are different depending on the source of aid.


As the most popular form of financial aid, loans may come from the federal or state government, or from the college itself. Loans can even come from private sources. They bear interest, though interest rates on student loans are often lower than other types of loans. A popular option in the U.S. is the federally mandated Direct Subsidized Loan, which allows for repayment to be deferred until after graduation. Our Student Loan Calculator can be used to estimate figures associated with student loans, or to get more information on the various types of student loans.

Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships or grants may also be made by government agencies, the educational institution, or other organizations. Essentially, they are free money, and do not require repayment of any kind like loans do. Some scholarships are purely need-based, meaning that they are provided solely on the basis of financial need. Other scholarships are merit-based: these are grants or scholarships to students who have shown excellence in scholastics or who have special talents or achievements in some area (such as sports, music, or leadership). Merit scholarships are not limited to students who have financial need. For example, in New York State, the Regents Scholarship is made to all students who perform well on the Regents Exam in high school, and who choose to attend a New York based college. Other scholarships link financial need and merit-based achievement.


Work-study jobs are subsidized by the federal government and are intended for students who have financial need. The jobs typically don't pay well, and students may do better finding a job with a private company. But work-study jobs have their advantages; earnings don't reduce the student's future financial aid awards, and their schedules are generally worked out so that the student's classes aren't affected. Also, they are typically on campus, so students don't have to worry about time or money lost towards commutes. However, work-study jobs are generally restricted to fifteen hours of work per week because that is the recommended amount of work time that students should do on the side.

Each college's financial aid package will offer scholarships, loans and work-study jobs. It is up to the individual to compare them and see which fit the best.

The 529 Plan

It is a good idea to start as early as possible when saving for a child's college education, and one way to do so is through a 529 plan, named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code. In these state-operated accounts with tax advantages, accruing funds can be withdrawn when used for approved educational expenses. There are two types of 529 plans, prepaid plans and savings plans.


Prepaid plans are generally available in the following states:


In a prepaid plan, tuition credits are purchased by lump sum payment or monthly installments and used in the future, usually for tuition at an in-state, public university at current rates. General rise in inflation and the appreciation of the value of cost of credits every year can help ensure it is a good investment for the foreseeable future. However, there are some typical drawbacks associated with prepaid plans in relation to traditional 529 savings plans. The first is that they generally appreciate at a much slower rate than traditional 529 savings plans, which perform as well as their investments do. Secondly, if the beneficiary does not use the funds due to a variety of future possibilities such as scholarships, no longer residing within the state, or the pursuit of something else other than higher education, it cannot be transferred to another beneficiary. The prepaid semesters will have to be repaid to the account owner, and all earnings are taxed federally as income. Thirdly, they tend not to cover room and board.


Traditional 529 plans are based on contributions to mutual funds or similar investments. Most are state-sponsored; these investment-based plans are generally taken early in the prospective student's life and held into the future when funds have had time to grow. They are akin to retirement savings plans, except instead of saving for retirement, it's for college instead! Also just like retirement savings, these plans are managed for age-based asset allocations so that the underlying investments become more conservative as the child gets closer to college age, similar to how investments in retirement savings become more conservative the older the person gets.

There are some tax advantages associated with 529 savings plans. Although contributions to them are not tax deductible, earnings in a 529 plan grow federal tax-free and will not be taxed when the money is taken out to pay for college education. Like any other fund tied to financial markets, there are risks associated with 529 savings plans; economic volatility is not predictable.