College is in the air.  Students are finishing applications and awaiting decisions.  It's the perfect time to think about the cost of college, and apply a relevant real-world application to linear equations and systems of equations.  What this looks like...

Part 1: How do colleges compare?
I give students information on urban and suburban private and public colleges.  The information is anonymous and based on median costs for tuition and living expenses.  Students graph the linear equations of the different costs over a 4 year period.  This provides a quick visual comparison of the costs of colleges.

Part 2: Comparing specific colleges
The next comparison examines specific colleges of individual student's choice.  If students have already applied to colleges, I have students select their top 2 choices.  If they have not applied yet, then they choose 2 colleges they are thinking about.  I have a ready-to-use list of 10 colleges as well for students who haven't given it much thought.  This is a great opportunity for students to start learning about individual colleges and to think about what they are looking for in a college.

Students research the cost of the individual colleges, write the linear equations, and graph them.  We use this college cost calculator which accounts broadly for potential financial aid.  Students are often surprised to discover that a private college may end up being less expensive than a public college depending on the amount of financial aid they might receive.

Part 3: Grants and costs
If we have time, we examine how grants can lower the overall cost of college by forming a system of equations.  While the system is imperfect in the way grants might be allocated, it still gives students an idea of how grant money can lessen college costs.

This is one of the most meaningful projects we do.  No matter where students are in their journey towards college, the discussions and exploration are enlightening.  We have discussions about the costs but also about why college costs vary.  We also talk about the value of college.

If you are interested in teaching this project in your classroom, you can find an editable pen-and-paper version here or a digital version here.  You can also read about how we use compound interest to look at the cost of college loans on the blog here.

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