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College Expenses

By Winston Chu May. 22, 2024

Before millions of first year undergraduate students attend college, many of them apply for financial aid. These programs, along with other financial literacy initiatives, help students cover the costly expenses of college, paving the way for more opportunities during this transition.

Kavya Desai art

Although tuition rates frequently vary among schools, generally tens of thousands of dollars are required to attend colleges. As a result of these high expenses, many individuals apply for financial aid programs to alleviate the burden. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 72 percent of undergraduates receive some form of financial aid. Non-federal financial aid is offered to more than 430,000 students in programs such as the College Scholarship Service Awards, as listed on their website.

Another crucial program is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA,) which enables students to apply for federal grants, work-study and loans to help pay for college. However, this year, the Department of Education altered their application process, causing significant inconvenience and stress for families. Normally available around October 1, the application date was pushed back to late December due to updates, with frequent site downtime for maintenance. High traffic and glitches caused online forms to be accessible for only thirty minutes a day. Only by mid-January was the site fully operational around the clock, however the shortened time to fill out the form consequently left many students and families confused and frustrated.

“I did not apply for financial aid because it is not included in the school I am going to attend. Money is not a significant deciding factor for me, but I can understand how it would be for others,” Senior Sophia Huang said.

Unfortunately, the delays did not only affect students; colleges also faced challenges. With significantly later requests, colleges had less time to create and plan financial aid packages. The limited amount of time for decisions and updates could impact the choices for application and award season.

Furthermore, scholarships are also prevalent opportunities to access financial support, as many companies and organizations offer them to decrease student loans. College Board’s BigFuture maintains a vast database of scholarship programs students can match and apply to. Additionally, the school also provides a myriad of scholarship resources under “College and Career Support” on the website and on flyers posted throughout the halls. These resources, along with counselors, offer guidance to students searching for financial aid opportunities.

However, the expenses expand past tuition. There are many hidden costs of college that are overlooked—such as textbooks, class materials and transportation. Textbooks and other supplies  are not covered by tuition fees and the average four-year university undergraduate spends an estimated 1240 dollars on them, according to College Board. In addition, transportation expenses to reach destinations social and food related beyond the meal plan only add to the financial burden. The unawareness of the full scope of these costs can exacerbate financial stress and hinders students’ ability to navigate through college successfully.

“Unfortunately, I dread the hidden costs of college. For my future at UCSD, I have considered food and getting a meal plan to cut down on costs. For transportation, I am staying on campus so I do not need a car. I plan to budget myself to save money on social activities and more, as the cost of tuition by itself is substantial,” Senior Steven Rapp said.

To alleviate the high costs, many high school students work and apply for jobs to earn money before college and may continue to do so while attending. While there is a variety of job positions for both teenagers and young adults, the majority gravitate to minimum wage jobs as an introduction to the workforce. Opportunities at local stores, fast food and quick eat restaurants may cover a portion of their expenses.

“Working at Safeway allows me to gain more experience talking to people, no matter the circumstances, which can prepare me for future careers. Also, I can use the money from my earnings to invest in stocks, pay off school debt and purchase a car. Owning a car is extremely beneficial, especially in college, as it reduces costs for additional transportation and can be very convenient to get to destinations on your own timeline,” Senior James Culberson said.

Currently, financial literacy—the ability to understand financial management, budgeting and saving effectively, has exponentially decreased among younger generations, enabling poor college spending. Out of the most recent five generations, Generation Z possesses the lowest financial literacy rates. The Financial Literacy Crisis in America: 2023 report attributes the declining rates to the lack of personal finance classes in high school and similar institutions. 

A study conducted by the Center for Financial Literacy ranked California, along with four other states in America, extremely unsatisfactory for the financial literacy rates among high school students. However, seven other states were deemed proficient, including Utah, where the law requires students to take a state-administered personal finance exam. Their success can also be attributed to the state law requiring financial literacy courses to be taught in school.

As the class of 2026 embarks on their college journey, it is crucial that they are financially prepared. Financial aid, scholarships and learning about financial literacy may help navigate through college life more effectively. Developing positive financial literacy habits during adolescence and early adulthood can help set the stage for a successful lifetime of pursuing and achieving ambitious goals without excess stress.


About the contributors

Winston Chu

staff writer

Winston Chu is a sophomore at Leland High. He enjoys writing, debating, and sleeping.

Kavya Desai


Kavya Desai is a senior at Leland High School and is a new artist for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys sleeping, playing video games, and going for long drives.

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