Winning Scholarships for College, Fourth Edition

An Insider's Guide

Marianne Ragins

Holt Paperbacks



What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; It is dearness only that gives everything its value.
—Thomas Paine

Before you begin your search for scholarship money, it’s a good idea to get a handle on how much a college education is going to cost you over the next four years or more. The cost of tuition at most colleges has been steadily escalating for years. Currently a college education can cost anywhere from $55,000 for four years of tuition at a public institution to more than $100,000 for four years at a private institution. For many students, who now take five or six years to graduate versus the traditional four years, that cost rises to nearly $60,000 at a public college or university and more than $140,000 at a private college or university. At the school I attended in pursuit of my MBA, George Washington University in Washington, D.C., tuition and fees alone for one year of full-time study, twelve credit hours on a semester system, were $21,435. They’ve since risen to over $29,000 per year. At the time I attended, without considering a yearly percentage increase in tuition and fees, which is common, the cost of a four-year college education at George Washington University was $85,740. Now it’s well over $100,000 to attend for four years.

Although the cost estimates above may scare you, be aware that the estimates are based on national averages and that there are many institutions that cost considerably less. You should also be aware that even though an institution may seem to be completely out of your price range, it can still be affordable. Why? Because choosing institutions with higher price tags results in your having more financial need and may actually qualify you for more aid. One factor that goes into determining your need is the cost of attendance at the school you plan to attend. Your need is determined by looking at the estimated total cost per year of attending a school and then subtracting your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) from it. This means you will have more financial need for schools costing more to attend, such as private colleges and universities, and thus may be awarded more money in your financial aid package. For more information on financial aid packages, read chapter 5, “Financial Aid Forms and Help from the Government with College Expenses.”

The following table is based on the average expenses for the academic year 2013–2014 for a full-time student enrolled in a four-year college or university. The table that follows it is an estimate of expenses during the next four years. For estimated costs extending beyond the next four years, visit

The amounts listed in these tables are estimates. Actual amounts could be more or less, less, one hopes. “Room” refers to the cost of staying in dormitory or campus housing without the benefit of meals. In the commuter estimate, it is assumed you are living with your parents. If this is not the case and you are living in an off-campus apartment, your expenses will be more than those shown for a student living on-campus (your rent is not likely to be less than zero). “Board” is the amount you will need for meals from the college or university cafeteria.

For a better assessment of your college/university expenses, look at the websites and catalogs of the various schools you are interested in and use the information you find to calculate a more realistic estimate. In addition to using the Internet, you can also call the admissions office and ask about the cost of tuition, related fees, and room and board for a year. Personal, transportation, and miscellaneous expenses are variable costs that depend primarily upon your needs. Do not inquire about these items. The amounts listed in the preceding table should suffice if you cannot reach an estimate on your own. The cost of books also varies, but most institutions should be able to give you a general average. For specific costs and expenses at thousands of colleges throughout the United States, refer to the College Board website,, and search for “college costs.”

One important way to keep your college costs under control is to make sure you are following a four-year plan to complete your undergraduate degree. Try to get as much information as possible about your intended major before you declare one. Also, you should declare your major no later than the end of your freshman year, even if you feel you have more time. This minimizes your risk of taking unnecessary classes. Changing majors or declaring your major late can cost you a lot of extra money because it might result in staying at college for a fifth or even sixth year. You can avoid this by making decisions as soon as possible based on good information.

You may also be able to minimize your college costs by taking advanced placement courses in high school. If you do well in these courses, take the advanced placement exam and score in the acceptable range, it could save you hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars because you won’t have to take the course or pay for it when you get to college. You should find out whether the institutions you are applying to charge by the course or by the semester.

Understanding how much money you will actually need for the education you seek can help to add extra zeal and determination to your search. Now that you know what college or graduate school can cost, read the next three chapters, which extensively cover research techniques to help you secure the money to cover the costs.

Copyright © 2013 by Marianne Ragins