There's no question that college is expensive. For the 2019–20 academic year, the average cost of tuition and fees alone hit the following thresholds:
- $3,730 at a two-year community college
- $10,440 at a public four-year in-state college
- $26,820 at a public four-year out-of-state college
- $36,880 at a private four-year college
And these figures don't even include room and board, which, for non-commuters, can add another $8,990 to $12,990 a year. Ouch.
If you're looking at spending such a large amount of money on college, it's imperative that you think things through beforehand. Here are some key questions to ponder before making your tuition deposit.
1. Is there a cheaper alternative?
The less money you spend to attend college, the less student debt you stand to rack up. Before nailing down your final choice for college, think about whether it's possible to get a comparable education for a lower price tag. You may find that there's an in-state public college where you live that's ranked similarly to a private college you've been accepted to, and with tuition that costs just a third of what you'll pay at that private school. Opting for a college that you can commute to will also save you money on room and board, so factor that into your decision, too.
2. Do I know what I want to study?
If you're entering college with a clear idea of what you want to study and you've been accepted to a school with a specialized program that can prepare you for your desired field, then it could make sense to pay a premium for that college since it'll set you up for the career you really want.
But if you're clueless about what you'll major in, then paying for a more expensive school doesn't really make sense. If anything, it pays to spend your first couple of years at community college, where you can knock out core requirements on the cheap. You may find that once you're a year or two into college, you have a better idea of the major you want to pursue. At that point, you can transfer to a pricier school after having saved some money initially.
3. How will taking out loans impact me later on?
Many people sign up for student loans without really understanding how doing so will affect them after graduation. Before you gear up to do the same, think about how it will feel to leave college, get your first job, and lose 10% of your paycheck to debt payments right off the bat. If that scenario doesn't sound appealing, then it could be beneficial to think about attending the cheapest college you've been accepted to.
4. Would it pay to work first and delay my education?
The benefit of holding down a job for a few years before attending college is twofold. First, it'll give you an opportunity to save some money, thereby reducing the amount of student loans you need to take out. Secondly, it'll give you a better sense of the things you enjoy doing professionally, which could help you choose the right major and gear your studies toward a more concrete career path.
Before you sign up to spend a boatload of money on college (because let's face it -- even the cheapest options out there are costly), think about whether you're making the right choice. In some cases, your best option could be to choose a different school than the one you're thinking of, or even delay your studies a bit. It might help you avoid a mountain of debt and also ensure that you get the most out of your education.