The Cost of College

One of the syllabus topics in IB Math Studies is financial mathematics. I teach this unit in 12th grade (right around the time of college applications). This year I had the students research a college to which they are applying so that they could examine costs of college using the math they have learned (particularly inflation and compound interest). I wish I’d been able to include more of the topics (depreciation, currency conversion, simple interest, loan repayment tables).

How Much Will College Cost Me?

The goal of this project is to prepare you for the costs of college life. After high school graduation, it will be very important to keep track of your money. If your family is providing you with financial support or you are paying for your own college education, it is best to know what expenses to expect!

1) College Research
For a college to which you are applying, research the following and provide screenshots and URLs as evidence.
– Tuition
– Fees
– Housing

2) Loan Repayments
Calculate monthly repayments for tuition and fees for all your years of college. For instance, you might go to a college for four years or attend community college for two years and transfer. Assume inflation of 7% per year for tuition and fees to calculate the total amount owed. You can use the calculator at and provide a screenshot.

3) Housing
Is the college of your choice near your home? If so, would you consider living at home? List at least three reasons for why/why not.

If the college of your choice would not allow for living at home, compare two housing options (on-campus, off-campus). What are advantages and disadvantages of each?

4) Freshman Classes
Find four freshman classes that you are interested in taking. Explain why you chose these classes. Find the syllabi and what books are required, then find the prices of these books online (with screenshots and URLs).

5) Scholarships
Find three scholarships that you can apply to. Explain how much money they are awarding, why you chose them, and what the major requirements are (due dates, essays, etc.). Provide URLs.

6) Part-time Jobs
Find two potential part-time jobs near your college. Explain why you are interested in those jobs. What are the salaries? How much would you make, before taxes, if you worked up to 20 hours per week during the school year?

7) What If…
What if you had to put one semester’s worth of tuition on a credit card because of an emergency? Choose a credit card and provided screenshots and a URL of the interest rate and any late fees. What would your balance become if you could only pay $100 per month for a year? Show your calculations.

8) Ask a College Student
Ask a JQUS alumnus/alumna about their freshman year experience with college expenses. What expenses surprised them the most? How did they learn how to deal with finances on their own?

Unit 2 Project – College Expenses

In the project submissions, I found that the students had a hard time applying the math concepts in Questions 2 and 7. For Question 2, I should have said “leave the loan interest rate at 6.8% and compute it for 30 years of repayments.” Some students put 7% in because they thought inflation was the interest rate. Many students put in a short repayment (e.g., 4 years) and ended up with monthly payments over $3500. Many students put in only for one year’s worth of tuition rather than 4. For Question 7, some students found cards with 0% intro APR but put in the regular interest rate anyway. Many students calculated interest for a single month and assumed that it would be for the whole year of attempting to pay it off. Not a single one did the calculations that showed how $100 payments for each month would impact the compounding and what would happen to the balance at the end of a year. I’d like to expand more upon this question in future iterations of the project.

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