Paying for College

What Does College Cost? One Family’s Second Year Expenses

May 1, 2012
Campanile @ The University of Kansas

Our goal is to pay cash for our kids’ college educations, so that neither they — nor we — have to take out loans. But we didn’t have a big education nest egg going in, so we’re doing it out of earned income or cash-flow.

Last year I broke down our daughter’s freshman year expenses item by item (see that list here). As I prepared to do the same this year, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that her sophomore year expenses were over $4000 less than the year before.

Here’s why:

Move-in day, Fall 2011
  • There were no one-time expenses for a computer or for dorm room equipment and supplies. That saved us $2300.
  • As it turns out, belonging to a sorority is quite a bit cheaper after the first year. $2200 cheaper, in fact.
  • Fees were down almost $700, largely because there were no first year fees for orientation, etc. There was also no cost for a parking pass, because she’s living in a sorority house instead of the dorm. And technology fees were lower too.
  • Book expenses were $400 cheaper this year than last. Lindsey rented a lot of her books this year, which may have accounted for the difference.
Move-in day, Fall 2011

A couple of things were more expensive:

  • The cost of her room was exactly the same as last year, but board was $1600 higher. That’s probably because last year there was a choice of meal plans in the dorm and we chose an inexpensive one. In the sorority, there’s one charge for everyone.
  • Tuition costs were up a few hundred dollars, due to one of her scholarships being a freshman year scholarship only.
Campanile Doorways

The Exact Breakdown

Tuition/Room & Board/Books: $10,824

  • Room = $3350
  • Tuition = $2980
  • Board (Meal Plan) = $3800
  • Books = $629
  • Workshops/Conferences = $65

Fees: $1298

  • Required Campus Fees = $858
  • Technology Fees = $290
  • Sports Combo Pass = $150

Sorority: $1049

  • Dues: $582
  • Moms/Dads Weekends, Family Day, Initiation Luncheon, etc. = $467

Total: $13,171

What’s Not Included:

Spending money – Lindsey is responsible for her own spending money so I don’t have costs for things like eating out, snacks, toiletries, school supplies, clothing, laundry, gas, etc.

The $150 student sports ticket is a great value for watching Kansas basketball.

How to Pay Cash for College

If you’re planning to send a child to college and want to avoid student loans, here are the things that have been helpful to us so far:

  • We chose an in-state school with low tuition costs. Our school – The University of Kansas – also offers a four year tuition compact so that we’re assured that tuition costs won’t rise during that time.
  • Lindsey applied for and was offered academic scholarships, which brought the tuition costs down even more. She’s required to maintain a certain GPA in order to keep her main scholarship each year.
  • Lindsey works during the summers and at times during the school year so that she can pay for incidentals. She’s also very frugal and a good steward of both her money and ours, which we appreciate.
  • A couple of years before Lindsey started college, I started setting aside my earnings from freelance writing/blogging into a account earmarked for her college expenses. Even though the amounts I receive are often small, faithfully saving each one and getting a slight head start has paid for much of her college costs.
Architectural detail on the KU campus.

So that’s a real-life look at one family’s second-year college expenses. Anything surprise you? Where are you at in the college process?

Note: If you’d like to read more about the college experience from both a student’s and a parent’s perspective, Lindsey and I blog weekly at Twice the College Advice on the U.S.News & World Report website. We’d love to have you join us there.

This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday, Frugal Fridays, Finer Things Friday, and Penny Pinchin Party.

  1. I wish more colleges would provide a four yearcompact for tuition. My children went to the University of California and saw their tuition more than double from their freshman to junior year. By he junior year, you are committed which leaves yo no choice, but pay the higher cost.

    1. KC, wow that’s a big jump. I guess with percentage increases on top of percentage increases, the costs can really skyrocket. I can understand how you felt stuck.

      The tuition compact has been a huge help to us from a budgeting standpoint.

  2. Julie, this is an excellent breakdown. Thank you. With a freshman in high school and a seventh grader, I know we’ll be here before we know it – and unfortunately, the cost of college just keeps going up. My sister graduated from KU – go KU!

    1. Angie, I think our school lists costs closer to that as well, but you can bring the sticker price down with scholarships, staying close to home, etc.

  3. I’ve already told my kids to work in the Federal Work-Study Program when they go to college to help pay for the cost of their education. I think if they pay at least a protion of it they will appreciate it more.

  4. I really appreciate these posts. My son is a junior in h.s. and has finally become a serious student. My d is a freshman. Son and I did our first college visit a week ago to one in my reciprocal tuition network. I was pleasantly surprised by the typical amount of financial aid. Seeing your breakdown for a typical state school is therefore helpful to me in many ways. The computer is a hurdle I’m saving for now since my son will likely need a MAC.

    Please keep posting these as you go along–it’s very helpful.

    1. I’m so glad the breakdowns are helpful to you, Lisa. My daughter bought a MAC too, as did all of her friends. If I had invested in Apple when she was born, I’m sure her college would have been paid for. :)

  5. Thank you for linking this up. Our h.s. sophomore is currently looking at different colleges and we are determined not to go into debt, not put her into debt. Its hard because we are in S. California everythings expensive here. I will check out your other blog too.

    1. It certainly is hard, Ann, and I imagine Southern California is especially challenging. Paying as you go isn’t as easy as it was when we were college-aged, but it is still possible if you get creative.

  6. Great real-life details about college expemses! My baby’s not even born yet, but I’m trying to decide if we need to set up a college savings account or work out something different. I’m leaning toward setting up an account and contributing small amounts. We’ll have to cover the rest as it comes later.

  7. Thanks for breaking this down! My oldest is in 7th grade so we still have a few years to go but it’s never too early to start planning. We have a 529 account for both of our kids but don’t know how far that will go with tuition costs increasing every year. My parents paid for my college education and I believe it’s one of the best gifts you can give your children if you’re able to, so that’s my goal with my two boys, too. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  8. I have to say that one of the biggest savings parents overlook is having their kids live at home while they attend college. Even if you don’t live in a city w/a large university, you probably have a community college where the first 2 years can be done very inexpensively. And there are many good on-line college courses available also. My 2 sons lived at home & earned scholarships for their tuition, fees, & even gas for commuting! No debt!!!

  9. This was interesting for me to read. My oldest is starting a program at FHSU in August; he’ll be 16, and technically still a jr. at Olathe Northwest, but will be living on campus at Fort Hays and taking a full college load for the next two years. We’re responsible for room & board, which is about 7k per year. I’m panicking! Seeing your breakdown helps just a bit. Thanks.

    1. Lisa, I didn’t know such a program existed. Your son must be very talented. What will he be studying? Are you panicked about the money? And you must practically be my neighbor. We’re in the Olathe school district too.

  10. Wow, the 4-year tuition compact sounds like a great program — it takes away the risk that tuition will skyrocket during your junior or senior year. I’ve never heard of that before, but it’s a good idea.

  11. I think that working through college can actually be a very useful life experience. Many parents feel that they want to support their kids through college (and that very natural and admirable) but I certainly wouldn’t put anyone off working their way through.

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