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The UnCollege Blog

What 4 Years of US College Tuition Could Pay For


The College Board's most recent survey discovered that the average cost for attending one year at an in-state, public university, inclusive of housing, meals, fees and books came to a grand total of $18,943, or about $80,000 if you graduate in 4 years. Going to school out of state means a sharp increase to $32,762 a year, or $128,000 for 4 years, and a private university will cost you around $42,000 a year, or about $184,000 for 4 years.

Even if you can save money by living at home or sharing grocery and commuting expenses with roommates, just the tuition and fees at an in-state, public university will still cost you about $9,139 per year, or almost $37,000 for 4 years.

Using this rather minimal figure, $37,000, let's take a look at some of the other ways in which you could put this large chunk of cash to good use.

Start a business.

With this amount of cash, you can make a solid investment and watch your business idea become a reality. If you have $37,000 to cover the costs of equipment, materials, workspace and marketing, you can then use Kickstarter or other crowdfunding websites to stretch your investment further while also growing the market for your product or service. During this experiement, you can educate yourself by reading business books, taking online courses through MOOCs, building a mentor network and much more 

Travel the world.

Traveling and exploring new cultures around the world is an education of its own, offering life lessons that simply can't be learned in the college classroom. You will also discover endless opportunities where you can lend a hand as a volunteer and make a real difference. Understandably, some programs have placement fees (partially to offset the costs of hosting you in a community that doesn't have many of its own resources) that range anywhere from $300 to $3,000, depending on the country and length of the program. If you were to undertake a slow travel adventure around the world for one year, traveling by land or with low cost airlines, staying for free through programs like CouchSurfing or Workaway, visiting countries with a low cost of living--you'd have to try really hard to spend $10,000 in one year. Essentially, you could live and travel abroad for almost 4 years for the cost of 4 years of in-state college. And just imagine what you could do with 4 years of tuition for a private college...

Fund your art.

It's common to hear an artist say that they are supporting their art until their art can support them. Well, what an artist always needs is time--time to think and create art. Money can buy you plenty of that precious time, if, for example, you choose to stay at an artist residency to work on your writing, music, painting, sculpting or other artistic pursuit. Although stipends and fellowships do exist, the competition for free stays is usually fierce, especially if you have less experience under your belt. Artist residencies exist all over the world, with an average cost of $1,000 a month for your own room, access to an art studio or workspace and 2 or 3 provided meals a day. For about the same price per month (or less), you could also just rent your own inspiring space (anywhere in the world), like a cottage by the sea or a cabin in the woods, and work on your art for a few months or even a year.

Invest in stocks or property.

This is a more dangerous option, and we wouldn’t advise this for everyone, but it can be quite the learning experience with the potential to make a healthy profit. You’ve got plenty of options, but an experienced investor will tell you to buy and hold for the long term. You can have the money put away in a fund where it can't be touched for 10 or 20 years without incurring penalties. However, property is for those seeking to put money into something more tangible. If you have some interior design savvy or handyman skills, you can look into flipping houses. It'll help to partner up with someone who has knowledge of the housing market. Alternatively, you can invest in a residential or commercial property that you can fix up and rent out.