The Cost of College: A Realistic Estimate

Mar 14, 2023 2 min read

If you have a high school senior who will don a cap and gown come spring, you might be wondering how much college costs over the course of four years so you can avoid student loan debt. We took a look at tuition trends across the nation to give you a better picture of how much 4 years of college could cost you.

Keep in mind that the cost of tuition and living expenses varies significantly depending on the type of school and/or the area.

2023 NCAA Basketball Tournament Bracket with Cost

Tuition and Fees

The type of college you choose will greatly impact how much you pay. According to CollegeBoard’s Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid, the average estimated budgets for full-time undergraduate students range from $19,230 for public two-year in-district students and $27,940 for public four-year in-state students to $45,240 for public four-year out-of-state students and $57,570 for private nonprofit four-year students.

The average published costs of tuition and fees for 2022-23 are:

  • $3,860 for a public two-year-in-district undergraduate student (a $60 or 1.6% increase from 2021-2022)
  • $10,940 for a public four-year in-state undergraduate student (a $190 or 1.8% increase from 2021-2022)
  • $28,240 for a public four-year out-of-state undergraduate student (a $620 or 2.2% increase from 2021-2022)
  • $39,400 for a private nonprofit four-year undergraduate student (a $1,330 or 3.5% increase from 2021-2022)

While a portion of these college expenses may be covered by financial aid, payment assistance has not kept up with the increasing price of higher education. In 2022-23, first-time full-time in-state students at public four-year colleges need to cover an estimated average of $14,560 in tuition and fees, meal plans and room and board after grant aid, in addition to $4,690 in allowances for books and supplies, transportation, and other personal expenses.

Tuition Increases

After two years of tuition freezes and discounts at many colleges due to the economic impact of the pandemic, tuition rates are up this year, according to data for the 2022-2023 school year submitted to U.S. News & World Report in an annual survey. The average tuition and fees at private ranked colleges has climbed by about 4% at ranked public schools, tuition and fees rose significantly less, by 0.8% for in-state students and about 1% for out-of-state.

Books and Supplies

The books and supplies a student will need depend on choice of major and many other factors. However, students should budget $1,200 to $1,500 per year. Buying used can save $20 to $30 per textbook, and online textbooks or textbook shares offer other potential cost-saving opportunities. In the long term, the costs of higher education do pay off; workers with a college degree make about $20,000 more per year (on average) than those who have no college education. 

What You Can Do to Prepare

Savings Accounts

The best way to save for your child’s college education is to start early. There are a variety of savings account options, but a 529 plan is one of the most common methods people use to save for college. Earnings grow tax-deferred, meaning there are tax advantages to these accounts. If withdrawals are used to pay for qualified higher education expenses, savings in this kind of fund are free from federal income tax.

Part-Time Work

If your child is old enough, encourage them to get a part-time job. This is a good way to teach them financial responsibility. If your teen’s academic workload is a full-time priority, have them consider a summer job. Seasonal work like mowing lawns, raking leaves and shoveling driveways also presents earning opportunities.  


There are countless scholarship opportunities based on community, field of study, college and more. Your teenager should start searching for and filling out these scholarship applications in their final years of high school. 

Federal Grants

Federal Pell Grants are money that you never have to repay, so if your child qualifies for one, it’s a handy way to shrink your college bills. Pell Grants are awarded on need, at up to $6,895 per year. Every student should fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Financial Student Aid) to find out what other financial aid they qualify for.  

Get Help Planning for College Costs

Ultimately, a college education is an investment in the future of your child and your community. If you’re wondering how to cover this investment, talk with a Farm Bureau financial advisor about your options.

Want to learn more?

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