By Sumiko Martinez on September 24, 2015

One of the first steps in deciding where you want to go to college is researching the costs. At first it might seem overwhelming, but remember: YOU choose where to go, and it’s up to you to pick the college that’s the best fit, at the best price.

There are a few different parts of the total cost of college. Here’s a look at them, and some things to think about to help you stretch your college dollar.

Tuition
Tuition, or the money that you pay for your classes, is often the largest expense in the total bill. Most colleges charge tuition per credit hour, but some (like many of our Utah colleges and universities) offer plateaued tuition if you enroll for more than 12 credit hours/semester. This means it would cost the same amount for 12 credit hours and for 15, or sometimes even 18, credit hours. It’s a good idea to take advantage of that by signing up for at least 15 credit hours per semester; that’s basically two free classes every year!

At state colleges and universities, there are different tuition charges for in-state and out-of-state residents. A Utah student attending the U of U will pay just over $8,000 for a year’s tuition – but an out-of-state student will pay $26,000! That’s true of most colleges. If you attend a school in another state, you may pay a much higher tuition rate than you would if you stayed in-state.

Fees
Fees are often added in with tuition, and they typically cover costs for labs, university-provided equipment, and services that are available to you across campus (like exercise facilities, counseling, and healthcare services, etc.).

Books
This is one area where you might be able to save a LOT of money. Campus bookstores, while convenient, usually charge the highest amount for textbooks. Some of your books might be available through the library for free. If you can’t find them there, you can shop for used books through websites such as abebooks.com and half.com. Your college’s bookstore may also offer book rentals – if you don’t plan on keeping a book to refer back to it later, this is a great option!

Room & Board
Obviously you’ve got to live somewhere while you go to school, right? This is another area that can vary widely on cost. Living in the dorms at an urban college will usually cost a LOT more than living in off-campus housing at a suburban or rural university. Think about what is included in your living expenses, as well. Sometimes if you live in a dorm, you’ll be required to put a certain amount of money into a campus meal plan – and that’s on top of whatever you’re paying for housing. You may be able to save money by living off campus, or even more by staying with parents or family members.

Crunching the Numbers
Once you’ve looked up the different costs for each of the colleges you’re interested in, it’s time to crunch the numbers! Subtract the financial aid offered through each school from the total cost of each institution to see what you would have to pay out of pocket to attend that college. Of course, the decision of where to attend is up to you – and the final cost can vary widely depending on whether you are offered generous scholarships or financial aid by colleges. Many colleges have Net Price Calculators on their websites, where you can put in some numbers and get an accurate estimate of what you’d likely pay at their school. So don’t rule a college out based on the sticker price alone! Always analyze the costs before you choose.

Also, be sure to look at our Facts-at-a-Glance page to get a quick overview of Utah colleges and university costs.

Sumiko Martinez is a Community Outreach Officer with the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (UHEAA). Learn more about Sumiko at sumikomartinez.com, and connect with her on Twitter @SumikoMartinez.