Cliché: There’s more to it than meets the eye.
POCS Reality: POCS can discover hidden costs above and well beyond stated college costs of attendance (COA).

Trying to form a college list and wondering how expensive college is? The numbers speak for themselves:

For the 2013-2014 school year (now) tuition is ranging from around $5,000 at some 2 year community colleges to about $50,000 at the most expensive 4 year private schools. Thinking of getting a quality education at a bargain? Public state colleges usually offer special reduced rates for their own residents but hike their tuition for out-of staters.

That’s only the beginning of the story. The cost of attendance (COA) may start with tuition but the COA formula developed by the government and the colleges add several more items: college fees, books and supplies, room and board, transportation and personal expenses.

COA = tuition + fees + books + supplies + room + board
+ transportation + personal expenses

So that $50,000 approaches $70,000 at some private colleges for this school year and costs have been rising at ~5% per year.

A college’s listed COA is usually based on a hypothetical average student either living on campus or commuting. Actual costs may be substantially more than these projections based on: your student’s housing choices (single, double, triple, suite?), meal plans (full or modified?), travel costs (distance from home, frequency and method of transportation), miscellaneous expenses (clothing including cleaning/laundry, toiletries, entertainment … even pizza and lattes add up).

Here’s some more bad news: not all costs are included so I created the POCS COA.
I also explain these significant extras in my seminar and book.

POCS COA = COA + start-up costs + program expenses
+ parent travel expenses + borrowing costs

Whether living on campus or commuting, COA does not include:

• Start-up costs

COA does not include one-time huge start-up costs like setting up a dorm room (bedding, desk and floor lamps, rug, mini-fridge, TV…) or purchasing a car (although COA may include campus parking fees. If not, add them in.). COA assumed costs may be dead wrong. The computer you bought may be hundreds of dollars more costly than the college includes- if it budgets for one at all.

• Program expenses

Your student may have classes and activities that require more costly textbooks and/or special equipment (scientific calculators, art/music supplies, athletic equipment, specific attire...).

• Parent travel expenses

Transportation costs under COA refer to student travel, not parents. So if you’re planning to visit your student on your own or for a college-sponsored event, factor in your meals and lodging, gas or plane tickets.

• Borrowing costs

If you and/or your student are taking out loans, even the low cost federal government loans have their own start-up fees and POCS should add in interest charges.

To help you figure your POCS COA at different colleges, I created this chart:

Tuition and Fees      
Books and Supplies      
1Room and Board      
Student Transportation      
Personal Miscellaneous Expenses      
Start-up Costs      
Program Expenses      
Parent Travel Expenses      
Borrowing Costs      
1 Commuters include their living expenses.

While you are comparing, here’s another POCS tip to keep in mind. Tuition can cost the same at an expensive private school as it does at a public state university. With the help of financial aid from the federal government and the school, as well as state programs and outside scholarships, college can be made affordable.

To help you compare your POCS COA at colleges your student received admission offers along with financial aid awards, I created this chart:

1 Financial Aid Free $ Awards      
Free $ from Federal      
Free $ from State      
Free $ from College      
Free $ from Outside Scholarships      
TOTAL Free $      
2 POCS COA – TOTAL Free $ =      
3 How to Pay      
Cash on hand      
Federal Student Loans      
Federal Parent Loans      
TOTAL Paid by Family      
1 Before accepting, check for strings attached to grants/scholarships such as maintaining a certain grade point average and/or a specific major, playing on an athletic team, joining the band, only available for the first year of attendance.
2 If total costs are greater than the free money award, the family must pay the difference.
3 Federal Work-Study (FWS) is a financial aid program. When the student works, he receives a paycheck for his FWS job. However, since FWS does not reduce the college bill, it is not included on the chart.