Before College: Games Colleges Play — Tuition and Fee Disclosures

No, this isn’t about March Madness. It’s about the Cost of Attendance (COA) figures disclosed on financial aid offers your student will soon receive from postsecondary schools that admitted him. Bottom line — these figures aren’t always precise or accurate.

IMG_1289Federal rules require schools to disclose tuition and fees charged to full and part-time students. But you need to understand exactly what is and isn’t being disclosed, because these may be the largest and most crucial costs your student will incur.



Tuition varies based on the number of credit or clock hours a student takes. But tuition communicated to prospective freshmen generally reflects the minimum number of hours required for full-time enrollment. At public colleges, it should also reflect your student’s residency status because such schools vary tuition on this basis — i.e. community colleges charge less to residents of their tax districts than non-residents, and 4-year public institutions charge out-of-state residents more than in-state residents.

Some institutions also have different tuition rates for different majors. So make sure the tuition revealed to your student reflects the major into which he’s been admitted.

Because tuition is sensitive to the hours for which your student registers, his residency status, and maybe his major, be sure the aid offer lists the appropriate tuition amount.


Sometimes the fees charged students actually exceed tuition. However, fees are combined with tuition when schools disclose COA. So if your student’s being offered a tuition scholarship or tuition waiver, it’s important to understand whether or not this award also covers fees.

Also, fees divulged on aid offers are usually the required fees all students must pay. IMG_1294Other, hidden fees aren’t listed. These are sometimes called “discretionary” or “optional” fees. They’re charged for everything from attending intercollegiate athletic events to participating in intramural sports. But they may also be required for essentials such as taking certain required classes or using campus labs.

If the aid offer doesn’t fully explain the tuition and fee amount it discloses, contact the financial aid office for more and better information about this disclosure. Otherwise, you and your student could be in for a rude shock when it’s time to pay the school.

There are four other COA categories besides tuition and fees. Read Games Colleges Play — Disclosing Room, Board, and Other Costs for what to watch for in these categories.

College Affordability Solutions helps parents and students decipher financial aid offers. Call (512) 366-5354 or email if you need a no-cost consultation for this purpose.

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