How Much Does College Really Cost? Here is an Easy Way to Find Out

This is the age old question.  How much will it cost me to get a college education? If we all knew before hand, wouldn’t we be able to make a better decision that would help us figure out the right path?  You should never choose a school based on how much it will cost you, but money is becoming a big factor.  There are so many students that are graduating college with massive student loan debt and it is becoming asinine.  We need a change in this country and many countries around the world or higher education will become unattainable for many.

This past weekend, I was reading the work and money section of my local newspaper.  I try to get a few stories in here and there, but there was one that stood out.  The article was talking about understand the costs of college and getting that number directly from colleges.  What?  How/Why would the college provide us with their costs before we even get admitted?  As I read further, I discovered a new service that was developed to help out prospective college students and their parents.

You can count on College Abacus

That is right, is a new service that provides you with financial aid estimates that come directly from the colleges.  You can pick your college of choice or you can browse the colleges within a certain category.  It will allow you to search for 3 different schools and will provide you with a simple breakdown of the costs.  You do have to input some information about yourself like your birthday, how much you make, and many other questions that are pretty general.

college cost comparison

Even though I am no longer in college, I decided to jump in and see what the costs of my college would be compared to another one that is popular with some online education chasers.  Here are the results of my school first, Appalachian State University.  If you don’t know what college this is, then just look up the Appalachian stunner of Michigan in a football game in 2007!  What, What!

appalachian state university cost

Here is the breakdown of another school that  many may be familiar with, University of Phoenix.  Now, this is a f0r-profit education school, but I thought it would be good to show how much it will cost you to go to this school.

University of Phoenix cost

I thought this tool was pretty awesome and while it is in beta, it can still be very useful.  They have many schools to add, but I am sure they will get there.  This should be another tool in the tool shed of prospective college students to make sure they are getting the best bang for their buck.  Go ahead and check out your college or one you are interested in.  The numbers might startle you.

Update: College Abacus commented to say that they will have all US schools in by September 2013.  Also, if you want some fun comparisons  and just to learn more, check out their blog.

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Grayson Bell

Grayson Bell

I'm a business owner, blogger, father, and husband. I used credit cards too much and found myself in over $75,000 in debt ($50,000 in just credit cards). I paid it off, started this blog, and my financial life has changed. I now talk about fighting debt and growing wealth here. I run a WordPress maintenance and support company, along with another blog. It is Empowered Shopper, which helps people get information about products they want to buy. You can also check out Eyes on the Dollar, which is a great blog that I co-own.


  1. April 3, 2013 at 7:18 am — Reply

    I haven’t heard of College Abacus before, but it definitely looks useful for people looking at college tuition costs. Hopefully it’s around in 20+ years when my kids are looking at where to go 😉

    • April 3, 2013 at 11:14 am — Reply

      I just learned about it. Though we have no idea if it will be around in the future, at least I can look around and see what prices are at this day in age and just some math to come up with where they “might” be in the future.

  2. April 3, 2013 at 7:22 am — Reply

    That is a cool tool. I agree with DC – I hope it is around when my kids are ready for college.

    • April 3, 2013 at 11:15 am — Reply

      Me too Greg. They could do a lot of things with the tool and I hope they do.

  3. April 3, 2013 at 7:29 am — Reply

    Handy tool Grayson, I wonder if there are any good ones for Aussie schools?

    • April 3, 2013 at 11:15 am — Reply

      That is a good question Glen. I don’t know about that, but you are probably more qualified to find one since you live there. It would be a good post if you could come across one.

  4. April 3, 2013 at 7:58 am — Reply

    That looks like a pretty handy little tool. And yes, I remember Appalachian State taking down Michigan. 🙂 I shudder to think of what college is going to cost here in 15 or so years once our kids start going, that’ll be a VERY expensive piece of paper if something does not change.

    • April 3, 2013 at 11:16 am — Reply

      That football game was awesome. I was already out by then, but it still was a great day to be a Mountaineer (our mascot). I have no idea where college costs are going to go, but they most likely will go up. Time to prepare now for the days of $100,000 semesters and only the elite and uber rich getting into college.

  5. April 3, 2013 at 8:17 am — Reply

    Love this, Grayson! What a great idea! Thanks for sharing – this will help us get things in order for the youngins!

    • April 3, 2013 at 11:17 am — Reply

      You are most welcome Laurie.

  6. Abigail Seldin
    April 3, 2013 at 9:14 am — Reply

    Thanks for the shout out! College Abacus will include all US schools by September 2013.

    If you’re curious to poke around the site and see more fun comparisons, you can check out our blog ( We occasionally feature the college paths of fictional characters like Haley Dunphy (Modern Family) or Akeelah Anderson (Akeelah & the Bee).

    • April 3, 2013 at 11:05 am — Reply

      You are most welcome Abigail. I love the tool and think it will be quite useful. Thanks for letting me know about the addition of all schools. I will update my post. I will also add the blog link so people can have the fun comparisons.

  7. Girl Meets Debt
    April 3, 2013 at 9:35 am — Reply

    As a student loan borrower, my short answer to your blog post title would be “too much” 😀 but I do like the cool tool you showed!

    • April 3, 2013 at 11:17 am — Reply

      Haha, I completely agree with you there GMD. College costs too much, but I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

  8. April 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm — Reply

    What a great tool! Thanks for sharing this with us. I definitely hope this is still around when my daughters are gearing up for college, although I may also faint when I put in the numbers too. 🙂 This would be a great tool to use with teens to talk about college costs too. I agree price shouldn’t be the sole consideration, but I’d want my girls to understand the investment we’re making in their education too.

    • April 3, 2013 at 3:53 pm — Reply

      You are most welcome. I think this tool can be useful in teaching a variety of money lessons regarding higher education. I hope it stays around for a long time.

  9. April 3, 2013 at 3:43 pm — Reply

    Haven’t heard of this before but it seems like a great source! I honestly think college is way too much money for what it offers but that is a whole other conversation =)

    • April 3, 2013 at 3:53 pm — Reply

      I think it is pretty cool. I agree that college is way too expensive for what you get. The ROI just isn’t there anymore. I don’t want to get into that though because that would be a very long comment reply.

  10. April 3, 2013 at 5:33 pm — Reply

    Hi Grayson,
    Very interesting article. Thank you for sharing this information. I never heard of college abacus before. This should be a great tool for parents and kids getting ready to attend school.

    • April 3, 2013 at 9:17 pm — Reply

      Hey Alan. They are just getting some serious buzz, so I figured I would jump on board. This tool will be very useful.

  11. April 3, 2013 at 8:40 pm — Reply

    We have two kids in Wake Tech right now, that’s going to bring the overall cost significantly by getting their start there. Otherwise, I don’t think I want to know!

    • April 3, 2013 at 9:16 pm — Reply

      That is a good way to do it, especially if you are not sure what you want to do or where you want to go.

  12. Justin
    April 3, 2013 at 10:03 pm — Reply

    That’s a pretty cool program. A great way to save money is to attend a community college for two years. When I started school it was considered a joke to attend a community college. But now it makes more sense than ever, especially for those who don’t know what to major in.

    • April 4, 2013 at 3:18 pm — Reply

      I agree with you there Jusin. That is an perfect way to save in order to find out what you want to do.

  13. April 4, 2013 at 12:07 am — Reply

    Nice tool. I think a lot of people choose schools without really thinking about the cost though. I know for me, I didn’t really consider exact numbers when I chose my university.

    • April 4, 2013 at 3:19 pm — Reply

      I think that used to be the way. I did the same thing, but now with how much school is costing people, it should be at least part of the equation. You can narrow down your list and then use this tool to see what might be feasible.

  14. April 4, 2013 at 7:04 am — Reply

    The high cost of college in America today is bordering on fraud. Should a college degree is a good thing to have; but why are university’s charging three times the price? The answer is because they can. It’s the power of the education monopoly and it needs to be broken up.
    High cost school should not be eligible for ANY tax credits. Share this idea with your congressman. Stop complaining and act!

  15. April 4, 2013 at 12:36 pm — Reply

    Neat, I’ll pass this along to my adult son saving up to send his kids through school.

  16. April 4, 2013 at 11:05 pm — Reply

    Awesome tool Grayson. It’s amazing how much college cost, it’s probably the number one reason I never went.

  17. April 4, 2013 at 11:34 pm — Reply

    Looks like a great tool Grayson! A great way to reduce the total cost of a 4 year degree is to take general education credits at a community college and then transfer to a 4 year University. Make sure to verify the credits will transfer first though!

  18. April 5, 2013 at 10:55 am — Reply

    This website would have come in handy when I was applying to college. There are so many teenagers going into college not knowing the ramifications of borrowing money and the extra expenses needed to prevail in class. Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

    • April 5, 2013 at 11:19 am — Reply

      You and I both Bill. It is important to understand how much you will need to borrow and how long it will take to pay it off.

  19. April 5, 2013 at 12:06 pm — Reply

    Interesting program that will probably help lots of kids and parents. I made my college decision exclusive based on finances. It was down to Wake Forest vs. St. Bonaventure, where I had a 50% academic scholarship. Needless to say, I went with the scholarship. Turned out to be a great decision for me.

    • April 5, 2013 at 12:57 pm — Reply

      Cool, Wake Forest is about 2 hours from my house. You made the best choice and there is nothing wrong with that. Scholarships are great.

  20. April 5, 2013 at 4:46 pm — Reply

    Lets not forget the loss of income for those 4 years in college.

    • April 5, 2013 at 8:53 pm — Reply

      Great point Marissa.

  21. jim
    April 6, 2013 at 3:55 am — Reply

    Old guy here – put 2 kids thru college debt-free. Been there, done that. Let me tell you – whatever site you’re looking at re: the cost of college – I’m throwing the bs flag. Add another good 15-20% (minimally) on to that figure. These sites soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo LOW ball the cost of college it isn’t even funny – it’s disgusting. What they don’t tell you about is the cost of:
    – when your kid wants to come back home
    – when your kid doesn’t get the parttime job they were sure was theirs
    – when the “fees” and supplements weren’t figured into that cost
    – when your kid gets sick and really does need to come home so you can take care of them (and take the time off work)
    – when your kid’s best friend really f’s up and he/she needs someone to help them out financially (and you will do this ’cause you’ve known this kid since he/she was but a babe and you love him/her like your own)
    when your kid’s car dies (the one he/she actually does need to get to their part time job)
    when, when, when , when….

    Seriously – add a GOOD 15-20% on to the “cost” of whatever site quotes you.

    • April 6, 2013 at 10:38 am — Reply

      I appreciate your comment Jim, but this site is not giving you the cost of the whole college experience, this site is a tool to see how much the actual classes and education is going to cost you. You are providing details about living through college. I wouldn’t call this site BS, because they are providing exactly what they say they are, college tuition that is actually coming from the colleges along with the maximum financial aid that you could probably get. Again, I appreciate you breaking it down more, but that is not what this post was about.

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