Cost of Living - How Does Location Impact College Cost

4 Ways to Figure Out How Much College Will Cost You by Location

The majority of students going through the college selection process face the same question: should I stay local, or head elsewhere? Not only is it a lifestyle preference, but where a campus is located can also have big financial implications on the average annual cost of college.

Before you decide if dorming is in your future, you need to understand that while the tuition-plus-room-and-board sticker price of a college certainly doesn't tell the whole story, it's a good starting point. Right away, you'll notice that an in-state public institution is almost always less expensive than an out-of-state public college or private university. However, delving deeper to discover a school's net price will be a lot more indicative of what you might actually have to pay to attend. Net price is the difference between the sticker price of a school and the financial aid you've been offered. There are calculators and tools on school websites to help you estimate a school's net price based on your situation, and you can also research to find out the average net price for your schools of choice.

Now that you have a way to analyze the average annual cost of college in a more accurate way, it's time to consider how a school's location will impact additional out-of-pocket costs and living expenses. Analyzing your school's location can be just as important as the school itself.

To make things easier on you, here are 4 to-knows before you go.

Cost of living in the area

The difference between everyday expenses in a big city versus a small town can be significant. This is worth thinking about since you'll be buying everyday items like toiletries, not to mention you might want to grab lunch with friends on occasion. If you think you might live off-campus at some point, don't forget to factor in the average rent in the areas you're exploring. You might be surprised that it's not just big cities that charge high rent — some college towns practically have a monopoly on student apartment rentals, which can make prices exorbitant.

Getting around town

If you're even allowed to bring a car to campus, be prepared to pay a couple of hundred dollars per year for a parking permit, not to mention gas and maintenance on the vehicle. Parking tickets can be pretty steep — at some schools, it can reach into the high hundreds — if you let your permit lapse or leave your car in a student restricted area. Getting around on public transportation or via car service rides can eat away at your budget, too. That's why choosing a walkable campus that also has an abundance of on-site amenities can be a real benefit. On the other hand, commuter students who choose to live at home and only have to travel short distances to attend school can save thousands on room and board and transportation because there are likely more options to get around. The downside is sacrificing the "away at college" experience.

Travel home

For those choosing an out-of-state college that's not within driving distance, flying home can be costly. And even for students who dorm just a few hours away, train tickets, gas and tolls can add up as well. Think about how often you might head home to see Mom and Dad, and compare what that trip will cost from the various campus locations you're considering. While you're at it, do some digging to see if direct flights are available to and from the campus location or if there is a major airport or train station nearby.

Summer storage

Dorm dwellers usually have to clear out their rooms for summer break, resulting in another expense that often sneaks up on families. That's because the farther away the student is, the more likely they will have to pay for storage; closer students can haul home their gear more easily. Either way, don't forget to budget for this cost if you're planning to attend school out of state or too far away to transport items over the summer.

When it comes to figuring out the average annual cost of college, don't forget about location. Where an institution is matters almost as much as the cost of the school itself. Do your research so there aren't any surprises.