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comparing college costs

Key Factors to Consider When Comparing College Costs

Brink's Money

23 Nov 2021

Having the opportunity to attend college is an immense privilege so choosing the right one for you is an important decision. Most college counselors recommend applying to a handful of schools and when those acceptance letters start coming in, you can’t help but feel elated. Making sure a school is the right fit for you takes great thought and consideration especially when examining the costs. Regardless of where you choose to attend, college is a great expense and long term investment. Here’s what to look for when you are comparing college costs:

Cost of Attendance

When you first think about college costs, the first expense that probably comes to mind is the cost of attendance itself. The cost of attending college varies from school to school and is based on a number of factors including whether it’s public or private, location, in-state or out-of-state, and size. Additionally, this value includes your tuition and fees which essentially is the cost of your academic program and the credit hours you will take. Depending on what you and your family are able to allocate for your college education, you may want to consider in-state schools if you want to save on tuition costs since going out of state will drive up that expense.

Financial Aid

During the process of evaluating a school’s cost, one of the most important figures you need to consider is financial aid. Financial aid is a factor that is also unique to each school because while some schools may provide aid to a large portion of its students, others may have few scholarships to award. An opportunity you should definitely take advantage of is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. When you fill out the FAFSA, remember to list every school you are considering or applying to see what types of aid are available to you. Additionally, when you receive an acceptance letter, the letter usually contains a notice regarding any scholarships awarded to you or student loan information. Before you disregard a school because the cost seems too steep, don’t forget to review the complete offer with scholarships and aid.

Cost of Living

Most of the financial aid and scholarships you obtain are used to cover the expenses of tuition and any fees associated with that but the truth is that many students also need assistance with funding room and board. When looking at your college options, it’s necessary to consider the cost of living in each town. During this research, you’ll notice the differences from a large city such as New York City to a small college town. There are pros and cons to each type of setting you look at, for example, a large city may be more expensive but you may save on transportation when you get around on foot while a small college may offer more scholarships and aid.

On-Campus Work Options

Another factor to consider when weighing your options and depending on how you want to approach reducing your debt are the job opportunities the school has to offer. You might find that as part of your financial aid package, you are permitted to have an on-campus job that could help you make some extra cash or can be used directly for your education. An added bonus of making the most of this opportunity is that these work-study positions are almost always on campus to help you manage balancing working and studying. Also, your supervisor understands that school is your priority and you can make a schedule that works best for you and your course load. Additionally, you can consider looking into the likelihood of landing a part-time off-campus job in the town around campus because smaller cities may have limited options compared to somewhere bigger.


One expense that you might overlook when comparing college costs is that of transportation. We touched on this a bit in the cost of living section but it’s important to dive into this one a bit more. Transportation doesn’t just mean getting from home to school and then back home when the year is over which is also something to keep in mind depending on how far away from home you go. As a college student, you most likely won’t be spending all of your time on campus but rather exploring and finding new places in the area. You have to think about things like whether your campus is within a walking distance of town or will you be in a city where you would have to commute daily? Does your school offer a transportation service or do you need to have your own car? If you already have a car and plan on taking it with you, then you would need to think about parking and gas costs. Transportation might be a more loaded topic than you initially believed but that’s why it’s so important to give some thought to.



Choosing a school relies heavily on where you can see yourself being happy and successful in your studies and personal growth. Although there are several factors to keep in mind when deciding, this isn’t a decision that should be rushed so take the time to sit down and talk it through with your parents and the best fit will be clear.


Looking for a way to get started on effectively managing your personal finances as you head off to college? Brink’s Money’s Prepaid Mastercard gives you a more convenient way to bank so you’re in control and get more for your money.

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