Don’t look now, but the cost of attending college just keeps rising, and that’s only the figures that academia wants you to know about.

According to the college planning website SavingForCollege.com, college costs just keep climbing, and there’s no end in sight.

Check out these statistics from their website, and see where college costs are now, and where they’ll be in 18 years:

Projected 4-Year Tuition and Fees

School Type Enrolling in 2013 Enrolling in 2031
Private College $129,700 $312,200
Public College $38,300 $92,200

Based on 5% annual increase in tuition and fees.

According to SavingCollege.com, those numbers – as high as they are – do not include additional cost burden toward the college experience, such as room and board, books, supplies, equipment and transportation – all costs that lead to what the website calls the “real cost” of attending college.

Combined, those figures are scary enough, but they’re all the more reason why parents should take a hard look at not just college costs, but also at preparing for college costs (those additional hidden costs of paying for college). With SAT tests, study guides, tutoring and advanced placement exams, not to mention fees for applying to schools and attending college tours hundreds or even thousands of miles away, the cash expended can add up long before you sign any tuition checks for your college of choice.

Imagine how these figures can dent your bank account even before your family decides on a college or university – and before those bigger checks are written:

Average cost of applying for college (per application) - $38.39 per college, although the average fee to apply to a top school is about $77.00.

Average cost of academic tutoring to get a high school student's grades up to college acceptance levels - $25 to $75 per hour

Average cost of taking an SAT/ACT exam - $52.50 per test for the SAT, and $38 for the ACT ($54.50 with the optional writing test), and many student take both tests multiple times.

Average cost of college tours – While there are no hard and fast costs attached to taking a college tour (the tours themselves are free), a mother and father taking a son or daughter for a campus visit has to pay for air, train or car travel, often a hotel room, meals, gas and the obligatory campus sweatshirt for the high school student. That can add up to over $300, per visit, or more for longer trips – and most students visit multiple colleges before making a choice.

Combined, those figures might lead to an early version of sticker shock for unprepared families planning for college – if you don’t prepare for some of those “real costs” that await parents sleeping at the switch.

How do you plan for college preparation costs and make sure you have enough cash on hand to cover all of those pre-college necessities? Add these tips to your higher education plan of attack:

Look For Waivers
When applying to schools, families and students can look to application fee waivers as they may be eligible, the experts at Sallie Mae advise parents in an email to Investopedia. That’s especially viable in the case of financial hardship. Check out CollegeBoard.com to see if your family qualifies for a college application financial waver.

Use Rewards Programs to Your Advantage
There are few ways to get around the fact that you’ll be digging deep for pre-college costs. Take some of that financial pain away by using a rewards credit card, which can give you cash back on the money you spend on pre-college services. Creditcards.com offers a review of the top 10 rewards credit cards, which gives you 5% cash back at select national retailers.

Use a College 529 Plan
The Internal Revenue Service is strict on what parents can pay for with College 529 savings plans. Laptop computers, or rent for off-campus apartments largely are not allowed, but college fees, such as application fees and college testing, can be paid for via College 529 plans. To play it safe, keep a copy of your receipts in case the I.R.S. needs verification of the expense.

Use Your Life Insurance To Help Pay Pre-College Costs
Jason Dyken, president of Dyken Wealth Strategies, has a unique way to pay for pre-college expenses: leverage your life insurance policy.

One specific tip for college savings is utilizing indexed universal life insurance as a funding mechanism to pay for your children’s education. Dykstra explains, “These policies, if structured appropriately, can provide the opportunity to save an unlimited amount of cash value in a tax efficient manner. Accessing the cash value can be achieved in a tax-free manner and these funds can be used to fund a child’s college expense. Additionally there are no limits to funding and if the funds are not used for education, complete flexibility exists in using the funds for other needs without the common restrictions of other more publicized funding mechanisms.”

The Bottom Line

Don’t overlook the hidden real costs of paying for college, especially those early expenses that mount while your child is still in high school. Meet and beat those expenses by sticking to the tips above, and you’ll have more cash in your bank account when the true sticker shock of the tuition bills hits you.

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