NORFOLK, Va. - A recent study found cost is one of the biggest factors for students when choosing a college.
At the same time, it found many are underestimating just how expensive it will be.
According to Fidelity's 2021 College Savings and Student Debt Study, one in four parents of high schoolers believe the cost of one year of college will be $5,000 or less.
Nearly 38 percent of students reported the same.
For many, the cost is actually much higher.
"There's always things that people don't think about," said Christian Howton with Norfolk-based ACCESS College Foundation, "room and board, books, meal plans, all that stuff starts adding up, and I think a lot of times when students are looking at colleges, they only look at tuition price."
Howton says the tuition is sometimes only half of the total cost students end up paying.
For students trying to decide where to go to school, he says a good place to start is by deciding what career they're interested in and then look for schools that are a good fit academically and financially.
One tool that can help is Big Future on the College Board's website.
It shows how much aid a school typically gives and how much debt the average student has when they graduate.
Students should also keep a close eye on priority deadlines to make sure they get the most aid possible.
"For instance, Old Dominion, they have a priority deadline of December 1st, and the students who get their application by that point have a better chance to earn scholarships from the university," said Howton.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) should be filled out as close to Oct. 1 as possible since money is awarded first-come, first-served.
There are also special programs in Virginia that can help.
The G3 program can cover much of the cost of tuition for eligible students enrolled in high-demand fields at Virginia community colleges.
At Norfolk State University, the Virginia College Affordability Network (VCAN) scholarship provides free tuition for Pell-eligible first-year students.
ACCESS has advisors in all area high schools that can help walk students through their options.