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A Breakdown of College Education Costs

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A Breakdown of College Education CostsThe sticker cost of postsecondary education varies greatly between schools, and the large amount of financial aid offered by the federal government and private donors can also alter the price tag on your dream school.

This series of articles offers a breakdown of average costs of public and private, online and traditional, and undergraduate and graduate universities. Although we encourage you to check with your school and its financial aid office, this should give you a general idea of what to expect.

If you're looking for resources to help finance your education, please check out our articles on scholarships and grants.

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The Cost of Online Colleges

Just like traditional colleges, the cost of online colleges can vary greatly based on many factors. Thus, it is impossible to give one figure for the yearly tuition of online school, versus yearly tuition at a traditional college. For example, a year of tuition at a private online college like Western Governors University is $5,780, while a year of tuition at a private online college like Capella University costs $22,912.[1][2] 

Other financial issues related to attending online school aren't always obvious in the tuition comparison. Keep in mind that online students often save money on gas and housing, as they don't need to relocate or commute. If you decide to keep your day job, you will also have the benefit of bringing in a salary while you attend college.

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The Cost of Two-Year Colleges

Two-year colleges include technical or trade schools, community colleges, and junior colleges. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of attendance at a two-year college in 2011 was $8,909.[3] Keep in mind that this number includes tuition, room, and board expenses for a full-time undergraduate student.

Tuition expenses can vary greatly, depending on the type of two-year institution you hope to attend. In 2009, the average tuition at a public two-year college was $2,156. Average tuition at a private not-for-profit two-year college was $12,725, while tuition at a private for-profit two-year college was $13,858.[4]

Two-year colleges may offer course flexibility and the opportunity to continue working while in school, which could affect your finances. Many classes offered through community or technical colleges can be taken in the evening or on weekends, allowing students to keep a part-time or full-time job while they earn their degree. This choice to work while in school will be a highly personal decision, but it is one variable to consider when weighing college costs. Working would mean less time to devote to your studies, but it can also reduce the debts you accrue while in school.

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The Cost of Public Four-Year Colleges for State Residents

Attending a public four-year college in your state is one way to minimize college costs. Public universities are often funded through both federal and state governments, allowing students within that state to take advantage of lower college tuition. The average tuition and fees at an in-state public college was $7,249, during the 2010-11 school year. Books and supplies cost an additional $1,194.

Total costs of attendance at public four-year colleges will vary based on the student's living situation. Students living on campus pay $20,114 in total costs, on average, while those living off campus pay $21,665.[5]

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The Cost of Private Colleges and Universities

Private colleges and universities often have higher tuition and fees, on average, than public colleges, since they are not funded by the government. In 2010-11, the average tuition and fees at a private not-for-profit college were $26,769, while tuition and fees at private for-profit colleges came in at $14,236. The costs of books and supplies at private not-for-profit colleges was $1,217, while the cost of books at for-profit colleges was lower, at $799. Add in the costs of room, board, and other miscellaneous living expenses, and the total cost of attendance is $39,772 at a private, not-for-profit college and $30,130 at a for-profit one.[5]

It is also useful to compare grant and scholarship aid between different types of colleges. For example, while the cost of attending a private, not-for-profit college is high, students receive an average of $15,300 in scholarships and grants, which can help defray those high costs. Students at private, for-profit college typically only receive $4,150 in scholarships and grants.[6]  

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The Cost of Public Graduate Schools

The yearly costs of attending a public graduate school will depend on the type of degree you hope to earn. The total costs (tuition, board, and living expenses) for master's students in public schools was $29,000, on average, for the 2007-08 school year. Doctoral students paid $33,700 in total costs, while students in their first professional degree paid $37,300, on average.[7] 

Most public college graduate students received some type of financial aid. About 40 percent of master's and professional students received grants, while about 60 percent of doctoral students did. Teaching assistantships and other gift aid can also decrease the cost of attendance; about 15 percent of professional students, 22 percent of master's students, and 57 percent of doctoral students received assistantships during the 2007-08 school year.[8] 

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The Cost of Private Graduate Schools

The sticker price of attending a private graduate school is significantly higher than attending a public one. For the 2007-08 school year, master's students in private, not-for-profit colleges paid $39,600, while doctoral students paid $47,100, and professional students paid $53,700. These figures are for the total cost of attendance, including tuition, room and board, and miscellaneous living expenses.[7] 

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  1. ^Tuition & Financial Aid. Western Governors University. Accessed April 5, 2013.
  2. ^Net Price Calculator. Capella University. Accessed April 5, 2013.
  3. ^Fast Facts: Tuition Costs of Colleges and Universities. National Center for Education Statistics. Accessed April 7, 2013.
  4. ^Tuition and Fees, Student Loans, and Default Rates. National Center for Education Statistics. Accessed April 7, 2013.
  5. ^abPostsecondary Education. Finances and Resources. National Center for Education Statistics. Accessed April 7, 2013.
  6. ^Postsecondary Education. Finances and Resources. National Center for Education Statistics. Accessed April 7, 2013.
  7. ^abPostsecondary Education. Finances and Resoures. National Center for Education Statistics. Accessed April 7, 2013.
  8. ^Postsecondary Education. Finances and Resources. National Center for Education Statistics. Accessed April 7, 2013.

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