When people complain about the rising cost of a college education, they often focus on tuition inflation. But tuition and fees represent only about half the cost of an in-state public college’s cost of attendance, with living expenses accounting for the rest.
Students (and their bill-paying parents) are often shocked to see how quickly those everyday expenses can add up. They might be even more shocked to learn that if they borrow to pay for them, their eventual tab could double.
That’s because, as a general rule, every dollar you borrow in college will cost about $2 by the time you repay the debt, given the mix of interest rates, interest capitalization and repayment plans used by students.
For example, suppose you order a $10 pizza once a week or so. Over the course of a four-year college career, that $10 pizza adds up to $2,000, assuming that you eat about 50 of them a year. If you use student loan money to pay for the pizza, the $2,000 initial cost will grow to about $4,000 by the time your debt is repaid.
|One of these||This often||Will add this much to your student debt|
|Daily double mocha latte||5 cups a week at $4.65 a cup||$9,300|
|Cereal||1 box a week at $5 a box||$2,000|
|Pop Tarts||1 box a week at $3 a box||$1,200|
|Beer||1 six-pack a week at $7 a six-pack||$2,800|
|Red Bull||5 cans a week at $3 a can||$6,000|
|Cell phone||Monthly service at $100 a month||$9,600|
|Laundry||2 loads a week at $4 a load||$3,200|
Of course, you could always economize with that old college favorite, ramen noodles. At $3 for a 12 pack, eating Ramen noodles every day (including weekends) will cost you only $700—if you can stand it.
And these aren’t the only—or necessarily the biggest—costs you could incur. Transferring colleges or changing majors can add a year of debt.
What’s more, colleges impose a wealth of additional fees, such as the student health center fee, athletic center fee, student activities fee, technology fees (for printing costs and WiFi), photocopying fees, and debit card fees. Study abroad can mean added fees too. If you pay your college bills with a credit card (at schools that allow it), tack on a 3% convenience fee.
I’m not saying that you should deny yourself your morning cereal or weekly pizza night. But just remember that if you’re borrowing to pay for it, it’s probably costing you twice as much as you think.
Mark Kantrowitz is one of the nation’s leading student financial aid experts. He is publisher and VP of strategy for Cappex.com, a web site that connects students with colleges and scholarships. He is also the author of several books about paying for college, including Filing the FAFSA, Twisdoms About Paying for College, and Secrets to Winning a Scholarship, and has served as publisher of the FinAid, Fastweb, and Edvisors web sites.