updated 3/1/2005 3:23:42 PM ET 2005-03-01T20:23:42

The real cost of a college education is daunting, and it's not too early to start planning for next fall.

According to the College Board, the average cost for tuition, fees and room and board at four-year private institutions is $27,516 for the 2004-2005 academic year, up 5.6 percent from last year's $26,057. At four-year public institutions, total charges rose 7.8 percent to an average $11,354, or $824 more than last year's $10,530.

These are the expenses that show up on the college or university's bill. While they may be shocking on their own, they don't even include a variety of other costs a college student actually will incur. Unfortunately, many families neglect to consider all of these other costs when calculating the actual cost of a college education.

"Individuals will certainly spend different amounts of money," says Sally Donahue, director of financial aid at Harvard College. "The key is for families and students to talk about it before the student goes away to school and come up with a plan."

Indeed, there are many costs that don't show up on the college bill, ranging from books and supplies to travel, laundry and other personal expenses, all of which add up to thousands of dollars each year.

Financial aid officers are happy to speak to parents about the family's financial situation. According to the College Board, based on the information you and your child provide, the financial aid office may even decide to increase your child's award if it is too difficult for you to cover all of these extra expenses. If they can't give your child more aid, they may be able to give you guidance about how to control indirect costs. Some financial aid officers will even help a student plan a monthly expense budget.

Of course, there are thousands of private scholarships that may be worth pursuing, which might help subsidize these extra costs. In 2006, Wal-Mart Stores will award more than $7 million in scholarships to high-school seniors. Microsoft offers more than $500,000 in scholarships each year for students currently enrolled in a four-year undergraduate degree program, as long as they are pursuing studies in computer science and related technical disciplines. And Coca-Cola's Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation gives away 250 scholarships to high school seniors every year. Fifty students receive $20,000 scholarships over a period of four years, while 200 more are given $4,000 scholarships over four years.

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