Paying for College: How to Prepare for College Costs as a High School Student

College Finance
March 17, 2020
When It Comes To Paying For College, Understanding The World Of College Finances Can Seem Impossible.

Unfortunately, the confusion surrounding the cost of college is largely due to the fact that paying for college goes beyond just tuition. While high school students are preparing for college, they must also develop a plan to save money for books and supplies, housing, meal plans, and transportation.

While saving money during high school is daunting, it is possible, and there are plenty of ways you can be smart with your college finances even before your first day on campus. In addition to money-saving habits, there are plenty of financial aid opportunities that many students aren’t even aware they’re eligible for; all you have to do is keep your mind open and explore all the resources available to you. Keep reading to discover helpful college finance resources and to learn how to pay for college!

What You’ll Find In This Article:

The Importance Of Planning For College Costs

When students are wrapping up their senior year of high school and preparing for the next step of their education, college finances are probably the most overlooked component. In all the excitement of getting accepted, choosing a dorm, and planning an exciting new chapter of their life, many students tend to forget that this experience is rarely free.

While many colleges are happy to offer their students as much financial aid as possible, few resources can be given at the last minute. In fact, in order to be eligible to receive any support at all, applications for scholarships, loans, and grants usually need to be submitted close to a year before you start college.

With this in mind, you can probably see why planning for college costs is so important. By making a plan early, you’ll be preventing situations that could jeopardize your overall college experience. Many students have had to take semesters off or quit school entirely because of debt accumulation, lack of funds, or not having a financial plan in place.

So, avoid this tricky scenario and plan ahead now!

Luckily, more than enough resources exist online for students who are new to the topic of college finances. From learning about the FAFSA to understanding the difference between grants and loans, WeAdmit has found the most recent data and statistics to help you succeed in planning for your college costs.

Everything You Need To Consider When Paying For College

When newcomers first begin planning for how they’ll pay for college, they usually don’t consider things like books, activity and health fees, and general living expenses. In reality though, when a college administrator refers to college costs, they’re rarely talking about tuition.

College costs should be considered an umbrella that covers several sub-categories that each cost money and require wise financial decisions on your part. Most of these categories will need to be paid for out of your own pocket, but the most expensive parts of college are open to receiving financial aid in virtually any form. There are five main categories of college costs that you should familiarize yourself with before committing to a certain college and developing a payment plan that works for you.


Tuition refers to the collective amount your classes will cost for each semester you attend university. Tuition amounts generally fluctuate depending on what tier of university you plan on attending; for instance, an Ivy League school’s tuition will be significantly higher than the tuition you can expect from a community college.

Keep in mind that the posted tuition price is rarely what a student is expected to pay out of pocket. When you’re granted admission into a college, the admissions office will inform you of the financial aid you’re eligible for. That assistance will automatically be applied to your bill every semester.

On average:

  • Tuition for a public two-year university: $3,730 (in-state students)
  • Tuition for a public four-year university: $10,440 (in-state students)*
  • Tuition for a public four-year university: $26,820 (out-of-state students)*
  • Tuition for a private four-year university: $36,880

In addition to your general tuition costs, you’ll need to keep in mind additional fees like health and activity fees, which helps your college keep certain extracurricular programs running and fund on-campus health services.

Note: The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition has everything to do with the type of university you’re attending. Most tuition policies regarding in-state and out-of-state come down to state taxes and government funding. Keep this helpful fact in mind as you begin your college search! Going to a college in your state of residence could save you a lot of money.


Whether you live on or off campus, comparing the price of these two housing options could save you money in the future.

In order to compare your on and off-campus options, consider all the things that your college already provides for you. These will usually be the things that you’ll have to pay for on your own. Many students find that the cost of living on campus and off campus don’t shy too far from each other. In fact, living off campus can prove to be more expensive in some cases, depending on whether you’ll be living in a city or suburb and how you’ll get to classes.

On average:

  • Housing for a public two-year university: $8,990
  • Housing for a public four-year university: $11,510
  • Housing for a private four-year university: $12,990


Travel fees pertain to on-campus transportation like bus systems, shuttles or, for schools in cities like New York or Chicago, public transit systems. You should also consider long distance travel, such as for flights home on break.

On average:

  • Travel fees for a public two-year university: $1,840
  • Travel fees for a public four-year university: $1,230
  • Travel fees for a private four-year university: $1,060


Thanks to useful resources like Chegg and, textbooks have never been more accessible and affordable. However, many college professors write their own textbooks and often require their students to obtain these special edition books. These kinds of textbooks tend to be more expensive because they can only be purchased through their own university.

For general textbooks, you can save money by using previously used or owned textbooks like the ones sold online, and using the rest of your funds for more expensive books.

On average:

  • Book costs for a public two-year university: $1,460
  • Books costs for a public four-year university: $1,240
  • Book costs for a private four-year university: $1,240


The last main category of college costs are reserved for food and dining. Colleges usually offer their students meal plans, dining cards, and extra cash that they can use at off-campus locations. Your yearly dining payment is basically an investment in yourself; this money comes back to you in the form of being able to eat on and off campus without worry, because you already paid for it.

More often than not, on campus students are required to obtain a meal plan while students who choose to commute have the option to purchase a partial meal plan or abstain from participating in the dining program at all.

On average:

  • Dining costs for a public four-year university: $1,850
  • Dining costs for a private four-year university: $3,000

7 Ways High School Students Can Pay For College

With all of these numbers in mind, you can now develop a fool-proof plan that will help you save money and, ultimately, be able to pay for college. When you’re thinking about your college finances plan, keep in mind that you can take action on any of these steps right now!

While some of these tips require applications, there’s no harm in getting a head start on your plan to save money for college costs.


Probably the best thing you can do for yourself when it comes to paying for college is to start saving while you’re still in high school. Whether that means getting a summer job and putting that money into a bank account, or working towards obtaining merit-based scholarships, starting early gives you time to build up a solid financial foundation.

The best scholarships for students are usually merit-based, meaning that they depend on your GPA and test scores. To boost your GPA and challenge your test-taking skills, consider enrolling in some upper level classes like Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate. Not only do these kinds of classes look impressive on a resume, but if you do well, you could open up many new scholarship opportunities for yourself.

Another way you can start saving in high school is by taking some college accredited courses as you approach your high school graduation. By finishing these courses early, you’re reducing the amount of classes you’ll have to take in college, thus, reducing the amount of credits you’ll have to pay for. You can complete college credits through online universities or your local community college, and they usually don’t cost nearly as much as they do at a large university. The earlier you register for these classes, the better, so find out the college credits you can get out of the way before you graduate.

Whether you choose an online university or local community college, you can start completing college credits as early as today; do your research and find out the best method for you!


When it comes to paying for college, there isn’t much you can do without the FAFSA. The first step in applying to any sort of scholarship, grant or loan will always be filling out the FAFSA.

On the FAFSA, you have the opportunity to provide information about your household income, any earnings you may be saving, and how much you’re currently able to put towards your college education. With this information, FAFSA is able to determine whether you’re eligible for certain financial aid opportunities or not.

If this is your first time filling out the FAFSA, there’s no need to panic. At first glance, it can seem like an intimidating process, but it’s actually set up for you to get through in no time. Don’t forget to reference WeAdmit’s in-depth look at the FAFSA to guide you through your application process.

After you familiarize yourself with the purpose of the FAFSA, you can create your account and start filling out the application as early as today!


Having a job while going to school doesn’t seem like a very convenient option, but it can actually save you loads of money and prevent you from graduating with a massive accumulation of student loan debt.

Work-study positions exist to help students gradually pay off their student loans as they go. It’s a unique work relationship with the college; your paychecks go towards the extra costs like housing, dining, and books while you can focus on getting good grades and participating in extracurricular activities. If you think that participating in a work-study program is the perfect fit for your life in college, get started on your job search today so you’ll be plenty prepared!


Another great way to start saving early is by pursuing scholarships. While most scholarships are merit-based, some scholarships are available to students based on activities, club affiliations, or even things as simple as where you live. Don’t hesitate to use trusted resources like the College Board’s scholarship finder to apply for scholarships that you might not even be aware you’re eligible for!

In addition to scholarships, college grants can be awarded to you depending on your current financial situation. Every student is eligible for at least one grant; find out which one you’re eligible for through the College Grant Database.


If you procrastinate on your plan to save money for college, you won’t have a solid foundation and will end up spending more money than you were anticipating. While you’re finishing up high school, explore specific ways that you can reduce your spending when you begin college.

Consider all college costs that exist outside of tuition. Is living at home a feasible option for you? Can you share an apartment with other roommates and carpool to cut down on rent and gas costs? Even consider simple things like transportation. Rather than taking a car to campus every day, do you live close enough to use a bike?

Think about the small things that you’ll inevitably have to pay for and any ways you can reduce these costs will benefit you greatly in the long run. Many components of the college financial process require waiting periods and forms, but you get started making a plan right now.


Student loans should be the last thing you consider after you’ve exhausted all other options. Student loans can accumulate quickly, build interest, and cost exponentially more than you were intending to pay in the long run. This is why, if student loans aren’t planned for or handled correctly, they can make it virtually impossible for you to pay off your college debt in a timely manner.

Educate yourself on the different kinds of student loans you can pursue; be careful to look out for components like building interest and different rates. A great way to get started on the student loans process is to read WeAdmit’s explanation on how to deal with student loans during and after college.


When it comes to saving money, every bit goes a long way. As long as you’re consistent and dedicated to setting aside your earnings, you’ll be able to cut down on the costs of college in no time.

Even if you’re unable to secure a consistent, hourly-paying job during high school, pick up some side jobs like babysitting or dog walking, and open a savings account for the primary purpose of saving for college.

Not only will this extra bit of money help you when unexpected fees or costs pop up, but this will get you into the habit of saving. In the long run, developing healthy financial habits is crucial to being able to pay for college and for your life after college.

You can get started on saving money for college today! Get creative and explore all the amazing options for students today like investment apps and freelance jobs.

Saving For College Is Possible

While the world of college finance seems overwhelming at first, with just a little bit of planning, you can start saving for college now and find yourself beginning college with a solid financial foundation.

Of course, before you create a plan, educate yourself on the many facets of college costs so they don’t surprise you down the road.

The key to saving for college is starting early. While you’re still in high school, make the effort to fill out the FAFSA, pursue scholarships, and take the classes you know will lead to helpful grants. Develop a plan that you can adhere to during college and dedicate yourself to saving money from summer jobs or side hustles like babysitting.

If at any point in your college financial planning process you find yourself in need of guidance, don’t hesitate to reach out to WeAdmit’s professional counselors. Our counselors are dedicated to your success in planning for college costs, and we have a team of financial experts ready to answer all of your questions. Whether you need research completed on certain schools or more knowledge about your options, WeAdmit has you covered.

Paying For College Isn’t Impossible, So There’s No Reason Not To Get Started Early!



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