College Costs Are Not Estimated the Same From School to School
In theory, when students and their families apply for financial aid and make plans to pay for college, college costs should be represented as the total costs for attendance.
This would include not only the charges that you see on a term bill such as tuition and fees, room and board, but also costs that vary among students such as books, lab supplies, transportation to and from home and some allowance for clothes and entertainment.
In practice, college costs within the estimate for the total cost of attendance are estimated differently from school to school.
For example, The College of New Jersey, a very good mid-sized public school with approximately 6,400 undergraduates, estimates its total cost of attendance to be just over $33,500 for residents and just under $45,000 for non-residents. The difference is entirely in the tuition. Every other estimated item for college costs is the same—even transportation. The college estimates just over $1,000 for every student, whether they come from New Jersey or a continent outside of North America. That’s not going to matter for most of the students—94 percent come from New Jersey—but it will matter if the school wants to add more students who would expect to fly home two to four times a year.
Rutgers-New Brunswick, New Jersey’s flagship state university, charges residents and non residents a little less for tuition and fees than The College of New Jersey. Yet Rutgers allows more money for books ($1,350 versus $1,200) and more for miscellaneous expenses other than transportation ($3,000 vs. $2,700) for all students. However, when it comes to transportation costs, Rutgers allows for less for New Jersey residents ($850 vs. $1,000) but is far more reasonable for non-residents ($1,600 vs. $1,000). Rutgers is more accustomed to having non-resident students (15 percent, including those from outside the US), which might explain the difference.
The New Jersey resident appears to fare the same, presuming a choice between of both schools. But a Californian or an international student who wanted to attend either school—and both are within a train ride to New York City—would get a fairer estimate of college costs from Rutgers.
To the credit of both schools, they openly provide this information on their financial aid Web pages. Other schools are less transparent. For example, Drew University, also located in New Jersey and recently profiled on EducatedQuest, is fairly expensive for a private liberal arts college, but is also reasonable when it comes to awarding scholarship aid. The university will also invite families to meet with their financial aid officers to receive a preliminary estimate of aid before they apply for admission.
But Drew allows less for other miscellaneous expenses than either of the state schools profiled in this post. The university includes transportation costs in their estimate of total cost of attendance only when they apply to commuters. This is surprising, considering that half of Drew’s students do not reside in New Jersey while the university does an excellent job at encouraging students to use New York City, only 40 minutes from campus by train, as a resource.
College admissions and financial aid officers will encourage students and families to use the Net Price Calculators on their Web sites to get a preliminary idea of what their college costs might be. These may or may not be helpful or encouraging. But keep in mind that the financial aid officers estimate college costs differently at each school. Don’t be afraid to ask questions on how they do it. The more thorough and transparent the people are, the more comfortable you will be with the college.
For more assistance to help you consider costs as you build your college list, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 609-406-0062.