Beware of 'stealth' college costs

/ Source: CNBC

With the end of the school year fast approaching, parents may be stressing over the sticker price of higher education. But for many the costs start piling up long before their son or daughter enrolls at their college or university.

For many parents these stealth college expenses can creep up — and they add up —  very quickly. Everything from SAT courses to college visits can run into thousands of dollars as you and your child try to make the perfect college choice. But there are ways to cut down some of those costs.

As 17-year old Daniel Brodman finishes his junior year of high school. His parents have found the process of helping him get into one of his top college choices is costing them a bundle.

“It cost us quite a couple of thousand of dollars to get him ready to take the SAT test,” said Dina Brodman,” who works director of and adult day care center

$7,000, to be exact — for 11 months of private tutoring.

Add to that, $2,000 a private counselor — or "independent educational consultant" — to help guide Daniel through the application process. Plus several thousand dollars for airfare and hotels to visit the top five colleges and universities on Daniel's list. And, a couple hundred in application fees.

For the Brodmans, these expenses will easily top $10,000 dollars before the first tuition bill is paid.

“We feel that this is well worth it and we anticipate we'll be happy with the results to get Daniel into the best school possible,” said Broadman.

Getting an 'edge'
Competition is steep and there have been so many changes in testing and the application process recently. Some parents believe if they don't pay for specialized services, their children aren't going to get the best opportunity. Yet, even college consultants admit that it can be a crap shoot.

“You can guide them and you can help them, but when it comes to the final decision that a college will make these days, no counselor should make the guarantee that a student will get in anywhere,” Sami Kramon,  president of Collegiate Choice, which helps families learn more about colleges.

To avoid busting your college savings budget before your child even gets to campus,  lean on the high school guidance counselor.

“Most of the time, a well qualified high school guidance counselor, particularly if they focus on college counseling, can provide all the information a student or parent needs to make a good selection of a college or university,” said Tom Green, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Services at Seton Hall University.

Instead of a private tutor, a 35-hour classroom SAT prep course at Princeton Review runs about $900. Kaplan offers an online crash course for just $79. And test prep services at Web site are free. Sample tests provided through the College Board are also free.

To cut down on travel costs, Kramon's company, Collegiate Choice, has videotaped campus tours at over 350 colleges. They're a little rough, but for $15 each, parents and students may be able to see enough to whittle down college choices without the expense of a consultant.

Still, despite the cost, the campus visit can be a key factor in deciding where to go. Daniel and his parents plan to head to New Orleans and Miami to visit his top picks this summer.

Hiring a consultant or financial planner to help parents figure how they will pay that tuition bill can add to those costs even further.

But all of the financial aid information from the federal and state agencies, as well as colleges and universities, is freely available. And Seton Hall's Tom Green says the best way to figure out how to navigate the financial aid system is to go directly to the financial aid office of the school to which plan to apply.