New York University banner hangs from a building in New York, U.S., on Monday, April 5, 2010. Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg

Private colleges are expensive. Many are double, if not triple, the price of public universities. Still, $71,000 a year is a lot of money. That’s the estimated total cost of attendance at New York University for the 2015-2016 academic year. And it’s not far off from what it costs to go to other private schools these days.

The sticker price at NYU gained attention earlier this week when incoming freshmen, Nia Mirza, started a petition to get the school to lower the cost of attendance. Mirza, a 19-year-old from Pakistan, claims the price went up after she committed to early admission to the class of 2019. She said she thought it would cost roughly $64,000 to attend the tony private school.

But NYU spokesman John Beckman said the school explained to early decision candidates that the cost of attendance was based on the current term and was subject to change once the annual budget was completed. He said that the students were actually quoted $66,542. And the school included $2,044 in expected travel and transportation expenses in the latest estimate for the first time to give families a better picture of the cost of going to NYU and living in New York City.

“We now have more students going back and forth to Brooklyn because of the merger with Polytechnic School of Engineering, and students had been asking us to include travel expenses to better calculate their financial aid packages,” he said. “Students are not paying more to the university because of this change.”

To be clear, it is not going to cost Mirza $71,000 to go to NYU. That figure is just a really detailed sticker price that doesn’t include financial aid discounts, like the $24,000 scholarship she received from the school. Mirza said her family had already prepared to take out a $10,000 loan to cover some of the difference, but whether she can pay the bill is not the point she says.

“I’m scared of what to expect from NYU in future,”said Mirza, who has gotten nearly 3,000 signatures on her petition. “I may not be able to afford sudden increases in tuition and fees in upcoming years because I will not have unlimited money.”

And Mirza argues, “When you sign a contract with someone over a deal and they ask you for additional money right after the deal is made, do you feel its legit? Prices are subject to change doesn’t mean prices are subject to change dramatically and without notice right after you commit to attend.”

Tuition at NYU has gone up about 3 percent for the last few years–putting it in line with other private research universities, Beckman said.

Indeed, even when you factor in room and board, the school is still not the most expensive school. That honor goes to Sarah Lawrence College at $65,480 for the 2014-2015 school year, followed by Harvey Mudd College at $64,427 and Columbia University at $63,440, according the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Room and board tends to be much higher at private schools in major cities like New York or Washington DC–Georgetown University’s “living allowance” costs $20,274 for the coming school year.

“We’re in New York City and real estate is more expensive here, housing is more expensive here, transit is more expensive here,” Beckman said.

The average tuition, room and board at a private college this school year is $42,419, according to the College Board. Once financial aid is thrown into the mix, the average cost at private universities gets closer to $12,500.

Beckman points out that NYU has increased its financial aid budget over 140 percent since 2002, which has led the average student debt to drop by over $10,000 since 2009.

Still, NYU isn’t cheap. Students still paid an average $34,268 for the 2012-2013 academic year after discounts from scholarships and grants.

“NYU is not among the relatively small number of colleges and universities that can meet full need,” said Beckman, who noted that the NYU’s endowment per student is about $75,000. He said the school launched a campaign to raise $1 billion for scholarship and grant aid, and it’s 40 percent of the way towards the goal.

As for Mirza, she is still determined to head to her dream school this fall to study public health and business management.

“NYU is a great institution,” she said. “I just want to make NYU understand the struggles of its students and their families. It is extremely important for NYU to know that some students already put in all they have to afford NYU and they cannot take rising rates every year.”

Read More:

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