Back to Pay For College

Price Tag

The total Cost of Attendance (COA) for one year in college includes tuition, housing, food, fees, books, travel, and personal expenses. Thanks to financial aid, hardly anyone pays this “sticker price.” Whether a college is affordable for you will depend on your personal financial aid package for that school.


  • Can I really afford college?

    Yes. Public and private colleges can both be affordable, and both offer financial aid. Public colleges are generally less expensive than private colleges. Here are some steps you can take to help ensure you will be able to afford college:

    • Apply for all types of financial aid.  See below for more details!
    • Apply to both public and private colleges to ensure you have a range of cost options.
    • If living at home and going away are options for you, apply to both colleges near home and those farther away so that you have a range of costs.
    • Make sure you know about New York State’s special admissions programs,like the Opportunity Programs (HEOP, EOP, SEEK and CD), CSTEP and others, BEFORE you apply to schools. If you qualify, these programs can sometimes help make college more affordable.
    • Learn about loans so you can make informed decisions about whether and how to borrow money for college.
    • Keep in mind you can attend part-time if you need to work full-time to support yourself or your family. Working through the three-month summer breaks can help you earn and save money during college.
    • Work with the college adviser at your school or at a College Access Program to help you work through your financial options.
  • Private colleges are really expensive, should I even bother applying?

    Yes, keep your options open! Affordability is one factor to consider when you apply to schools, but you will never know which ones will offer you the best financial aid if you don’t even apply. In some cases, you might receive enough aid from a private college to make it cheaper for you than going to a public college. This can be true even when the cost of attendance at the private college is much higher. Focus on finding a college that is a good fit overall — one that meets your academic, career, personal and financial needs.

  • How much does college really cost?

    That is a good question, but the more important question might be how much will you have to pay to attend college? College costs range from around $5,000-$10,000 a year to attend a CUNY college to more than $50,000 per year to attend some private universities. BUT THAT IS BEFORE FINANCIAL AID IS APPLIED. For example, students who receive Pell and TAP grants may be able to attend a CUNY college without taking out loans and only paying out of pocket for books and personal expenses. Even a $50,000 price tag for a selective private college can be reduced, with financial aid, to a gap of $1,000 for you to cover after grants and loans are awarded.

  • What is Cost of Attendance (COA) and how do I find out how much it is for the schools I am considering?

    Cost of Attendance (COA) for one year includes tuition, housing and food (aka room and board), fees, books, travel (to and from campus and to and from home for breaks if going away), and personal expenses. Sometimes the Cost of Attendance is called the “sticker price.” Keep in mind that for high-income families, the sticker price may be very close to the actual price students will pay for college; but, for low- and moderate-income families, students may end up paying thousands of dollars less than the sticker price. There are even cases where students get “full rides,” and need to pay very little towards college expenses.   

    To find a college’s total COA you can look on its website, call the college, or use resources like the College Board search and College Navigator.

  • Why are out-of-state public schools so much more expensive than CUNY and SUNY?

    This is because public colleges provide discounts to residents of their own states. The “in-state” tuition is usually significantly less than the “out-of-state” tuition (the price for students from other states). This is true in New York as well. Students from outside of New York State pay more to attend CUNY and SUNY schools than New York residents.

  • How can I pay for my books?

    If you are eligible for a financial aid refund, you can use it to pay for your books. Some Opportunity Programs and scholarships can also help pay for books. If possible, plan ahead to save money from a summer, part-time or Work-Study job to help pay for books. If you need your books before you get your financial aid refund or have the funds saved up, you can consider renting books, sharing books with classmates, reading books in the library, or copying selections from books you borrow until you can buy your own. If none of these are an option, talk to your professor or academic adviser. Take action: don’t fall behind because you can’t afford your books.

  • Does applying for financial aid affect my chances of being admitted?

    Not usually. You are generally admitted based on your academic performance and the qualities you possess as a student. Some colleges are 100% need-blind in their admissions, whereas others may consider students financial needs as they try to admit a diverse class. Most colleges want diversity and use financial aid to achieve that goal. Applying for financial aid early can help give you the best chance of being admitted with a good aid package because colleges do have a limited amount of funds to award each year.

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