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What are the different types of costs associated with college, postsecondary education, and training?

When going to college or learning after high school, there are different costs to think about, like direct costs for things like tuition and books, and indirect costs for things like housing and food. Some costs are fixed, like application fees, while others can change, like course materials or entertainment, and these costs can be different for community college, four-year college, technical school, online programs, or apprenticeships. Created by Sal Khan.

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Video transcript

- So let's think about all of the costs of an education. So the first thing that most people think about is the actual tuition that you would pay. If you go to a standard four-year college, it could be tens of thousands of dollars a year. If you go to a community college or you go to a state university, it could be a good bit less so it's something to think about. And there's other forms of what I would consider education, things like apprenticeships, co-op programs where you might even be able to make a little bit yourself. I guess you could consider that negative tuition, but that's the first thing. It's just how much are you going to pay for someone to help train you and for someone to help educate you? The next cost, and I'll try to go roughly in order, are probably things that you're gonna need to live wherever you are getting educated. And I know you might be thinking, "well, I'm gonna have to live someplace regardless. I'm gonna have to find food. I'm gonna have to have a place to stay." But if you decide to go to college, let's say, in a more expensive city, then those expenses could be a lot more. And also, certain colleges and universities have certain rules about where you are or aren't allowed to stay, or you might want to stay on campus which might have certain costs with it. So I would definitely consider what's often called room and board, which is where do you live and how are you getting your food to be a pretty substantial cost. Another cost, and I'm trying to once again, to go in order of of magnitude of cost, is the opportunity cost. What else could you be doing with that time that you're putting into that education? You could be getting some type of other job. So there is the opportunity cost of lost income when you go get an education, especially when you think about things like graduate school. You could be out in the job market there earning money. And then beyond that, there's all sorts of smaller expenses, but expenses that still can add up. I definitely had sticker shock when I went to college and I saw how much textbooks cost. And this was about 25 years ago, almost 30 years ago. Yeah, I'm getting old, but they can easily cost hundreds of dollars. I remember, I always tried to see if I could check it outta the library or share a textbook with a friend to avoid some of that expense. I know now there's some rental textbooks and digital textbooks and open source textbooks which might hopefully help with that cost, but that could be really a significant expense. Things like textbooks or lab materials or all of these other things that might not be included in tuition. And then on top of that, once again, you're going to wanna do all the things that any reasonable person would wanna do when they're living, which is not just have a place to stay and have food, but maybe entertainment, some travel. And that could change dramatically, if, let's say, you are going to go to college in a different city than where you live and you're gonna travel back and forth, maybe on a plane. That can get reasonably expensive. And then obviously, entertainment and travel in a bigger city, and say New York, it's gonna cost a lot more than if you live in a small town or decide to go to college in a small town. So that's, I would say, the space of all of the places where you could spend your money. But I wanna really make sure that this doesn't scare you because when you oftentimes just add all of those together, it can be tens of thousands of dollars a year. In some cases can even approach, you know, approaching six figures in a given year, but you really don't know what your costs are going to be until you apply and you figure out what kind of a financial aid package you get. Many of what you would call the sticker price of a lot of universities is what they would charge someone who's not coming in with a scholarship, who's getting no financial aid. So these are usually going to be more affluent people are going to usually have to pay those costs. But if you come from a less well-heeled family and those numbers look scary to you, it actually turns out that sometimes some of the more expensive universities are the more generous ones with financial aid. I'll just use myself as an example. The college I wanted to go to when I was in high school, at the time, this was in the nineties. It cost even then with room and board and everything, it was over $30,000 a year, which was more than twice what my mom was making that year. So I was like, "there's no way I'm gonna be able to do it." But my sister went to a similar type of school that had similar type of tuition and she got significant financial aid because my mother did not make a lot of money. We were on free and reduced lunch when I was in high school. They saw that. And my mom's contribution, even though the sticker price was, you know, 30 something thousand dollars, my mom's contribution was something like $1,500 a year. And then I did accumulate some debt. So, you know, I accumulated about $30,000 in debt over four years, which is still a lot better than it could have been over a hundred thousand dollars. But you still have to be careful even with that to make sure that you're going into something that you feel confident you'll be able to be employed. It's something that you'll enjoy being employed in and something that you can really put the effort in to get those jobs so that you're in a position to pay back the debt and the investment in your education pays off. But I encourage you, you know, look at the spectrum. One, be aware of the costs. Be aware of what the different outcomes would be and then think about, okay, do I want to live in a big city, small town? There might be cost implications there. Do I want to go to a private school? Do I want to go to a state university? Do I wanna spend maybe two years at a community college and then transfer? These are all potential options that affect the cost equation, but they also have other trade-offs as well. So it's more nuanced than you think, but I think especially if you come from a lower income household, there's probably more options than you realize. In many cases, you should at least try to apply for some of these more aspirational schools if that's interesting to you and see what they offer you, you might be surprised.