Colleges all offer a breakdown of expected costs, but totals after calculating loans, scholarships and other financial considerations may vary widely depending on the family's situation, offers columnist Lee Bierer. The most important thing for parents, Bierer advises, is to consider just how much debt the family can reasonably shoulder. This will come in handy when comparing what the federal government considers "expected family contribution" -- the amount they think you can afford -- even if it's not the same as what you realistically can pay.

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