What does college really cost?

There's often a big difference between a college's tuition and what it actually costs to attend it. 

In addition to the tuition and fees, families will also need to pay for room and board, personal expenses, and travel.  That total annual cost is what colleges call the "COA" or "Cost of Attendance."  It's the number that will be used to determine whether or not your family receives any need based financial aid.  And that's a good thing.  When colleges are evaluating your ability to pay, you want them considering all of the costs you would incur.

The distinction between tuition and the COA is important.  Consider the University of Wisconsin Madison, for example.  According to their website, the tuition/fees for 2011/2012 is $9490.  But the COA is $22,330. 

So the COA, not just the tuition, is what families need to factor into your college budget and your college research.  Most colleges calculate the COA for you. Just visit the financial aid section of colleges' websites to find it.