College is expensive. Like, really expensive. In general, people understand that. The problem one survey found is that most parents and kids are all over the map in terms of interpreting just how much money the term "expensive" really means.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is involved in an ongoing study about what high school students and their parents know about paying for a four-year college tuition. The latest results are pretty concerning.
Approximately 10 percent of high school freshman were able to correctly cite how much tuition and fees for just one year at a public four-year-college will cost within their state. A whopping 57 percent overestimated how much it will cost and 32 percent underestimated the figure.
For the more than half of those surveyed who overestimated the cost, there could be good news for them. College will actually be slightly more affordable than what they are currently counting on. Still, it's important for everyone to get on the same page about the breakdown of tuition and fees so that money can be set aside or financial aid can be filed for in the most accurate way possible.
How far off in dollars were parents and kids? On average, the students' estimates were about $10,500 incorrect and parents weren't far behind with an estimated $8,800 difference.
In an interview with CNBC, Mark Kantrowitz, who publishes SavingForCollege.com, says the mistakes often happen because both teens and parents have their eye on what he calls a school's "sticker price" rather than the net price. The net is what a family or student will pay once any scholarships or grants have been factored in. Kantrowitz says most schools have a calculator on their website to help identify the net price for a particular student.
NCES is particularly concerned with the number of teens and students overestimating the cost of college because they are worried it deters low-income and minority students from enrolling. It could also cause them to cross certain schools off of their list because they deem them out of reach, when in actuality, if they file financial aid forms and work with the school, there are opportunities for enrollment.
If you and your child are going through the college application process, talk to high school counselors, admissions reps, and those in the know regarding financial aid before ruling out a college that would otherwise be of interest. Where there's a will, there's a way.