Is Your Child’s Dream School a Financial Nightmare?

Published by Wendy Nelson on

Today’s post is a guest post from Shanice Miller of  She wants to make sure parents understand the financial differences between the three major types of colleges: private colleges, public colleges and community colleges.

If you have a child that is a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior in high school, you’re probably starting to think about college and how you’re going to afford it. While some parents have started 529 plans and saved $40,000 or more to put towards their child’s college education, that number might not be enough to cover the child’s college costs. With some colleges costing as much as $60,000 for only a single year, your child’s dream school can quickly turn into a financial nightmare unless the child has a full-ride scholarship.

So how do you prevent your child’s dream school from becoming a financial nightmare and breaking your checking, savings, and retirement accounts? The first step is to understand exactly how much your child’s dream school will cost. You can easily do this by knowing what category your child’s dream school will fall into.

There are 3 different categories of colleges: Private colleges, public colleges, and community colleges.

Private Colleges

Private colleges are the most expensive of the 3 types of colleges. However, don’t rule these out just yet. Some private colleges can offer a lot of merit scholarships. Merit scholarships are based solely on the student’s academic achievements like their GPA (grade point averages), SAT scores, and athletic abilities. These scholarships can provide your child with tens of thousands of dollars to attend, which might make the college affordable and the price tag not as steep as you once thought.

According to the College Board, the average cost of attending a private college is about $41,000 per year— this includes room and board costs. Harvard University, Howard University, and Boston College are all examples of private colleges. Let’s look at their total college costs. Harvard University and Boston College cost about $60,000 per year to attend while Howard University costs about $40,000 per year. This means if your child’s dream school is a private school, make sure that you have approximately $164,000 in your budget for all 4 years.

Public Colleges

Public colleges are less expensive than private colleges. However, there are two types of public colleges— in-state public colleges and out-of-state public colleges. In-state public colleges are colleges in your state of residence while out-of-state public colleges are colleges that are in any other state besides the state that you reside in.

The College Board averages the cost of in-state public colleges at $18,000 per year and out-of-state public colleges at about $32,000 per year. The University of Houston and the University of California Los Angeles are both public colleges. Let’s look at their total college costs as an in-state resident in comparison to an out-of-state resident. For in-state residents, the University of Houston costs about $18,500 each year while an out-of-state resident would have to pay $27,000. For UCLA (University of California Los Angeles), in-state residents have to pay $28,700 per year while out-of-state residents have to pay $51,600. This means if your child’s dream school is a public in-state college, make sure that you have approximately $72,000 for all four years, but if the child’s dream college is an out-of-state public college, be prepared to pay $128,000.

Community College

Community colleges are the least expensive of the three types of colleges; however, tuition costs for community colleges will increase if your child wants to attend a community college that is not in your county of residence or in your state of residence. The College Board estimates community colleges costing $3,264 per year. Part of the reason that community colleges are so affordable is because they do not offer housing options and meal plans. Also, community college programs typically are two year programs where your child can receive an associate’s degree or switch to a 4-year institution where your child can continue his last two years of studies and receive a bachelor’s degree.

Some examples of community colleges are Anne Arundel Community College and Baltimore City Community College. Anne Arundel Community College costs $6,990 while Baltimore City Community College costs $2,460 each year. So if your child’s dream school is a community college, have an average of $6,528 in your budget for her associate’s degree or first two years of college.

As you can see, not all colleges are the same when it comes to the price. Knowing the cost of your child’s dream college can really prevent surprises in your budget and lifestyle.

Shanice Miller is the author of “How to Graduate College Debt-Free with Money in the Bank” and a personal scholarship coach. Learn more about her at