How much will 4 years of college cost?

It’s no secret that college is expensive. But how much does it actually cost?

Oftentimes, the price listed on a college website isn’t actually the amount you’ll pay. Several factors play into the cost of college, including where you’re attending, the tuition for your specific program, financial aid, and scholarships. We’re here to help you understand what can cut down (or rack up) the cost of college so that you can get yourself the best deal.


Sticker Price vs. Net Price

You might think a quick Google search will tell you how much a college costs. Unlike that delicious gallon of chocolate milk in the refrigerator aisle, though, a college’s “price tag” isn’t what you’ll actually end up paying. That’s because there are two things going on here:

  1. The sticker price—what’s listed on the college’s website
  2. The net price—what the college actually costs after things like financial aid and scholarships are factored in

How to Estimate How Much College Will Cost for You

All colleges and universities that offer federal financial aid (which is pretty much all of them) are required to provide a net price calculator on their website. Although the estimate provided by a net price calculator is just that—an estimate—it’s the best way to get an idea of how much you’ll actually pay to attend.

Using a net price calculator is easy if you’ve already submitted your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA (more on that later). If you haven’t done your FAFSA yet, it may take you a bit longer, but it’s worth it to get a good estimate.

Estimating Your Cost at UIUC

You can find out what the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s sticker price is for a specific major for the current year by using our cost calculator. But remember, this doesn’t take into account what scholarships you might get or whether you’ll receive financial aid. You can get a better estimate of what your net price will be at UIUC for the current year by using our Net Price Calculator.


student holding a stack of paperwork

Ways to Cut Down College Costs

Paying for college is an intimidating thought, but with scholarships, financial aid, and awareness in your decision-making, you can make the costs a bit more manageable.

Scholarships

Scholarships are awards that you don’t have to pay back. This means that you have to apply for them, and they can be competitive.

Most schools offer scholarships and merit aid based on academic achievement, talent, and more. Oftentimes, these schools will consider you for their awards automatically when you apply to the school itself (but always check to be sure this is the case so you don’t miss out!).

There’s no need to hang your scholarship hopes only on your colleges, though. A handful of federal and state scholarships also exist out there, and many private organizations offer scholarships as well. Local organizations can be an especially great resource in your search for aid.

Some final advice on the topic: Don’t ever talk yourself out of applying for a scholarship, even if you think you won’t get it. It’s always worthwhile to try. After all, you know you won’t receive a scholarship if you don’t fill out the application!

Financial Aid

Financial aid is another way to cut down the cost of college. To apply for aid, you’ll need to complete the FAFSA, which we referenced earlier. Colleges use your FAFSA information to determine the total amount of aid you’ll receive. This aid might come in the form of grants, waivers, employment, or loans.

A grant is money given to you by the school or government. Waivers are opportunities to not pay charges like application fees. These are both need-based, meaning they’re given to people who can demonstrate financial need, and you don’t need to pay this money back. Schools often also have Federal Work-Study programs that secure you employment on campus so you can make money.

Student loans from the government are another way to make college more affordable. Remember, loans will make college less expensive right now, but you’ll be expected to pay it back later. Still, it’s a great solution assuming you won’t be paying all of your college tuition upfront.

Illinois Commitment
At UIUC, qualified Illinois residents who submit the FAFSA can get up to four years of free tuition if their family income is less than a certain amount (for 2020-21, that number is $67,100 or less).

student walking their college campus on a fall day

In-State Tuition

Going to college far away will probably cost more money. Not only will you have to put aside funds for traveling to and from that college (plane tickets are always pricey, and so is gas for an 800-mile car ride!), but the cost of the college itself may be more, too.

If you’re looking at any out-of-state public colleges and universities, the tuition you’ll pay to attend will typically be higher than what an in-state student is going to pay. Research your colleges to learn how their tuition works, including what kind of scholarships they offer out-of-state students to help offset such costs and whether they offer reduced tuition for students from neighboring states.

The other option is to stick to schools in your state. One upside to this plan? You’ll be able to get home quickly if you ever need to.

Starting at a Community College

Going to a community college for your first two years can be a great way to cut down the cost of college. Some colleges (including UIUC) have programs that ensure admittance to their school after completing a certain number of courses at a community college.

Some people might feel that they’re missing out on the college experience by not being on campus their freshman and sophomore years. However, for others, starting at a community college can make attaining their bachelor’s degree a possibility. You’ll have to decide whether community college is a good financial and academic fit for you.


If you still have questions related to how much college costs and how you can afford it, contact the financial aid offices of the schools you’re interested in. Ours is the Office of Student Financial Aid, and they’re here to help!

Illinois Admissions

Illinois Admissions

We're here for you as you prepare for college. Whether you're looking for guidance on the college search process or have questions about Illinois, we hope our blogs will help!

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