I have a friend who’s son is entering his senior year in high school and is starting to sweat next years college costs and rightfully so based on what we found. Armed with a glass of wine each, we set out to see what the average college cost (including room and board) and what student loans were available, their interest rates, and cost. This was no small feat as both the colleges and the student loan lenders (both private and government) make it about as clear as mud.The first step was to pick five average community colleges, state universities, and high end private colleges to get the numbers from. We wanted to see the spread and come up with a reasonable average that was fairly accurate on today’s costs. When in doubt, we did round up since we wanted to get real world figures and didn’t want to cut any corners that might not be available for everyone. After we got our average costs, then we would search out all the different student loan possibilities.Here’s what we ended up with on average community college annual costs. Tuition, room and board, and average fees came to about $11,000 per year or a total of around $45,000. State universities were a little more than double, about $23,000 per year or $92,000 total. And the top end Ivy League type colleges came in at a whopping $50,000 per year for a total cost of $200,000.These figures are all based on as accurate information as we could find on the respective websites of each school. Not exactly scientific but a very good average to use for determining what the cost is for necessary student loans for all three categories. These numbers are based on 9 months (some schools had quarters rather than semesters) and didn’t allow for any special discounts or grants from the colleges (and several did have some good offers that may reduce the cost).Even with the latest changes in the Government Student Loan programs, you can’t count on any grants or scholarships due to the maze of qualifications. But if you qualify due to financial reasons, there is a good chance to get a government grant for up to $6000 per year. But we excluded any other financial aid in our research to keep it comparable in general. Most students will qualify for some help in financial aid be it discounts, scholarships based on merit, or even part time work funded by the school or government programs.So the figures we’ll use for annual costs are $11,000 for community colleges, $23,000 for state universities, and $50,000 for Ivy Leagues colleges. The interest rates varied from a low of 2.88% to 4.50% depending on the different qualifications (sometimes financial need, sometimes credit history or co-signer, and other factors). And there are several variations on every single possible loan type. As an example the SallieMay loan that offered the lowest rate, 2.88% also required an interest payment while still in school (starting as soon as the loan is initiated). And remember that most private student loans may require a co-signer to get that low interest rate.You also have quite a few different pay back options. Options like number of months (term of the loan), which will dictate the amount of the monthly payment and the total cost. In our case we used a midpoint interest rate of 3.77%, 180 payments (15 years), and a payment of $195.93 per month. That comes to a total pay back amount of $35,266 for the $23,000 student loan. But wait, that’s only one year, multiply that times four and you get payments each month of $783 and total pay back of $141,064.That’s comparable to buying a $141,000 house but you don’t get the house. That’s also 15 years of almost $800 monthly payments you’ll be making. This is a serious long term contract you are entering into and you will be paying it off well into your 30’s. Walking out of your college graduation ceremony with $140 in debt is sobering to say the least.I know that this got my friend’s total and complete attention after we did the basic numbers. But keep in mind that there is a very good chance that you can reduce that cost by at least 10-15% with other possible financial aid that comes with no price tag (at least monetarily). And in my friend’s case, he did have about $60,000 saved in a college fund so that will greatly reduce the total amount of any loans.It’s important that anyone always check with his or her college of choice to find every possible financial aid available. Every college may have different programs and it’s always a good idea to explore any opportunity.