George Washington University junior Ben Silverstein says he works 25 to 30 hours per week during the school year, plus a full-time job and overtime during the summer -- all to pay the cost of his own education after receiving outside financial aid.
He has watched GW's "sticker price" inch past $58,000 for the coming academic year -- though it won't affect his tuition because the university locks in students' tuition costs, scholarships and aid for up to five years of study.
"The only thing that changes is housing, and that's really annoying to try to budget for," he said. "I'm probably going to have to pick up a couple more shifts, but that's not really a big deal."
The university's Board of Trustees voted last month to increase incoming students' tuition by 3.4 percent, raising the overall "sticker price" -- the cost of tuition, fees, room and board, without scholarships or financial aid -- to $58,186.
GW is not alone in its pricing; American University, Catholic University of America and Georgetown University all post sticker prices that have been steadily edging beyond $50,000.
But for years, GW has been trying to clear a reputation of being one of the nation's most expensive universities. According to the school's website, though, nearly two-thirds of students receive some type of financial assistance.
"When considering GW's cost structure, we consider the overall economic situation and try to keep our increase as close to inflation as possible while continuing to make investments in our programs and student experience," said university spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard.
If GW's applicant pool has suffered from sticker shock, however, it has not hurt the number of applications, which has risen every year since 2008. Only 56 percent of applicants applied for need-based financial aid this academic year.
That means the university is likely attracting students who can afford to pay the full tuition, according to Rita Kirshstein, director of the Delta Cost Project at American Institutes for Research.
"One of the things that's happening in the [private universities] is what we call cross-subsidization," Kirshstein said. "The so-called full-paying students are helping to defray the costs of those the institution is providing financial aid for."
"One of the attractions of GW obviously, is location, location, location," Kirshstein said. "They're attracting people who want to be in D.C."
The university keeps some students' prices down with merit-based scholarships and financial aid. Freshman Jaime Diamond said she received aid that made the university less expensive than her state school.
"The price -- actually, if anything, it made me want to come here more than just go to a state school in the middle of nowhere, because it actually was less, even though I'm getting so much more out of it," Diamond said.
Colleges and universities raise tuition to keep up with rising expenses of health care, technology, insurance, facilities and other factors.
Said Sally Kram, director of public and governmental affairs for the Consortium of Universities in the Washington metropolitan area: "There are more requirements than ever on universities to provide services that haven't been required in the past."