Finding the Best University for Your Budget

You're thinking about going back to school. You're not sure of the costs and want to compare prices before taking the "plunge." You need to know more about their programs and all the related costs. There are many sites online that can help you decide and compare costs. How do you compare costs and what goes into tuition cost? A number of factors figure into the mix when you are comparing universities such as location, lab and book costs, room and board costs and miscellaneous costs such as fees and activity costs. It is generally understood that the more prestigious the university is, the costlier it is. For example, if you decided to go to an Ivy League school such as Harvard or Princeton you'd expect your yearly tuition to be upwards to 50,000 dollars or more. A smaller university such as Colorado Mesa University has a yearly tuition of 16,808 dollars (2013 estimate). A good way to figure out what you can handle is to research the programs each university has first. Depending on how much time you need to spend in a lab (for example) and how much time you spend in a regular classroom, you have figure out both equipment and book costs. Tuition doesn't not cover book and equipment costs. Here are some key factors you should consider while searching for the best university for your budget:

Location

Yes, even in today's world on online university courses, it is important to consider how far you are willing to go to get an education. It also plays a key factor in how high the tuition is, for example students from a wealthy area such as Boston that has a good solid tax base can afford to pay high tuition for quality education. Rural universities in depressed areas of the country can't demand their students pay more than they are capable of paying. This is not saying that you don't get quality education at a rural university, but you can expect that they won't have updated equipment and facilities with some exceptions.

Resident or Commuter?

This is an important component in your decision and also plays into location factors. Tuition costs for those students coming out of state are higher than for residents. The reasoning is that most out of state students need room and board. This adds an extra 8,000 dollars or more to the student's tuition. States also cater more to their resident students by offering discounts and other incentives to stay in state. Commuters on the other hand who travel to university instead of residing on campus stand to save that 8,000 that they can use for transportation costs and other expenses.

Program and activities fees

Unless you are planning on studying for an occupation that doesn't require any fees, and there aren't many out there, you do have to consider program fees. This could be anything from lab fees to computer technology fees. You may also have to pay activity fees if you decide to participate in sports and other activities such as academic competitions. Depending on the program, you can expect to pay more for a program that involves a lot of specialized equipment and training. Hands-on programs for automobile trade and the computer trade can run in the thousand dollar range depending on certification fees and other related fees when you complete the program.

Book and Equipment costs

With many books available online, book costs have plummeted. Equipment costs however have skyrocketed with many students having to purchase tablets and other electronic devices in order to participate. It is unfortunately perceived that most students will have access to computers and Internet connections. Some universities have addressed this issue head on by including these computer fees as part of the tuition. Others have kept them as a separate cost and expected students to have this equipment themselves. With the advent of online learning, this cost is often figured in as part of an online scholar's responsibility. It makes perfect sense as the online scholar already has the computer and the Internet access.

Virtual learning vs Classroom instruction

Online courses on everything from cooking vegetarian to automotive repair have multiplied over the past ten years or so. Many universities tout their online courses and programs as a way for the busy professional to get updated information about their profession without having to go into the classroom. The cost however is comparable to traditional classroom instruction. The good thing about online courses opposed to traditional classroom instruction is that you can pick your time to go over the material. You do miss out on the interaction you get in a classroom setting and the instantaneous feedback you receive from your fellow classmates.

Alumni support for job hunting and career preparation

You definitely want to find out what support the university will give you when you graduate. Will they help you formulate your job strategy? Is the program geared towards helping you land a job in your field? How much career preparation will they give you? Before you decide on a program and put out money, you should have at least a good understanding of how you can put those skills to work for you. If the university promises "the moon", you might want to think twice about applying to that university. Big name universities such as Penn State offer a comprehensive career support center for a variety of careers and occupations.

Finally, please keep in mind that only you can decide which university is best for you. You should consider a number of factors before making your decision such as the ones mentioned earlier. Yes, cost is definitely a big factor in your decision but it shouldn't be the deciding factor. Pell Grants and scholarships are available. There are also a myriad of free online courses and free courses that you can take to get a feel for what you want to do. Take advantage of them and good luck!

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