College students read on the quad.
College students read on the quad. - 
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Tess Vigeland: When you think of college costs what springs to mind?

If you're a parent sending Sally off to school, it's probably tuition, books, a computer. If you're Sally, you're thinking about the other essentials: team t-shirts, pizza, beer.

But there's no line item for "partying" on financial aid forms and schools vary widely on what they suggest for personal expenses. NYU's official amount is $1,000. Per year. In New York. Hello?

But that could get you further at, say, the University of Kansas in Lawrence. So how do schools come up with these recommended numbers, 'cause you know Mom and Dad are counting on 'em?

Well, we called up Phil Day for some answers. He's president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Apparently there's a report called "Trends in College Pricing" that advisers use to set their student budgets.

Phil Day: It covers the waterfront, breaks it out by type of institution -- public two-year, public four-year or private four-year -- and by region and also provides a national average.

So what's the real scoop on college costs? On a visit to campus at George Washington University in D.C., we found out that students are able to buy meals and supplies on a special debit account. But -- surprise! -- they don't always use it.

Senior Anna Sicari says her parents back in Long Island tell her to eat at home, watch her spending... But, mom!

Anna Sicari: They taught me a lot, but it hasn't worked out as good as it should have. Shopping and going out, like bars and stuff, is a huge expense. If I got out a lot that week it could be $500, but normally $100-150.

Of course, that would make Anna the type of student credit card and loan companies love.

They wouldn't have as much luck with Kaylyn Koberna, a freshman from Pennsylvania. She's only been at G.W. a few weeks and so far -- so far -- she has stuck to her parents' strict budget.

Kaylyn Koberna: They actually set up a schedule for me to use my debit card a certain amount of times a week and then we review my transactions and balance my checkbook. I'm not gonna get a credit card. I'm not much of a shopper, but occasionally when I can't think anymore, I go get a tabloid magazine to sit down with and read, but that's about it, honestly.

She must be a personal finance major.

And we found a veteran of the student spending wars. George Washington alumnus Shaun Corney graduated last year. He says, yeah, he spent too much, but at times it enhanced his education.

Shaun Corney: Your professor tells you about some cool program or something. I mean, there's always something you have to spend money on to make the most of your experience in school.

He says the memories outweigh the debt. Of course, he's still paying back the loans he took out.

Follow Tess Vigeland at @tessvigeland