College Cost Calculator

Calculating Future College Costs

This calculator can be used to estimate the future cost of college based on average increase projections. The calculator only needs three inputs, including:

  • The average annual cost of a college education today. This value can be for a public or private four-year institution
  • The years until matriculation, which is the number of years before the student enters college or university
  • An estimate of the average annual increase in college cost

The calculator then provides the user with two outputs:

  • A projection of the cost of each of four years of college
  • The total cost of a four-year college education in the future

The cost of higher education

While the rising cost of a college education today might seem outrageous, nothing compares to the decade of the 1980’s where costs of a private education nearly tripled over a span of just ten years. Parents planning to help pay for a share, or all, of a child’s college costs need to start saving early. If you have a newborn and you think college is expensive today, plug some numbers into our calculator and see what it might cost to put that child through college twenty years from now.

Estimating the future cost of college

This calculator only requires three variables to provide an estimate. Two of those variables should be known; in particular, Years Until Matriculation. If you’re planning for a child that is age nine and they will be entering college at nineteen, then the years until matriculation would be 19 – 9, or 10 years.

The other factor used by this calculator that should be known is Today’s Cost of College. This value will vary for in-state versus out-of-state students and whether the plan includes a private and / or public university; however, there is a great deal of transparency around these costs online. A visit to a college website or two is the best way to get an accurate value for this variable.

The final input the calculator needs will be an estimate – College Cost Increase per Year. That said, there is some information published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) that can help. For example, from the year 2000 through 2020, the average cost of a 4-year public institution rose by around 9.0% per year, while tuition and fees at a 4-year private institution rose by 6.2% over that same timeframe.

Categories of expenses

While the most frequently mentioned cost of college is tuition and fees, these expenses fall into five categories, which require careful consideration when estimating the future cost of college:

  • Tuition and Fees: this is the baseline cost to attend college, which are the expenses associated with the classes taken at school and various fees such as the maintenance of school grounds or the use of athletic facilities
  • Room and Board: this expense applies to students living on campus in dormitories and signing up for one of the school’s meal plans
  • Books and Supplies: depending on the field of study, it is no uncommon for a single textbook to cost $300 USD or more
  • Transportation: this would include expenses associated with air or train travel. A good estimate is a student might travel between their home and school six to eight times a calendar year (three to four round trips)
  • Personal Items: this would include expenses such as laundering clothes and can also include “discretionary” expenses such as eating out or other recreational activities