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With "early decision" and "early action" deadlines looming for colleges across the United States, graduating high school seniors are stuck figuring what any given school will actually cost. They're pondering the mix of private loans, federal loans, scholarships and grants, and factoring in housing, books and fees before they sign on any dotted lines. Those in the know understand that the public sticker price for a college is often not the actual price a student will pay. But what, then, is the price? And why is it so opaque? We hear a bit from three high school seniors in the midst of navigating all this. Then Kim Clark, assistant director of the Education Writers Association, makes us smart on how the system got this way and what it means for families (heard of the Chivas Regal effect?). Plus, your feedback on our smart homes episode.

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This episode is brought to you by Schwab, Gobble, Navy Federal Credit Union and SweeTango Apples.

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Follow Kai Ryssdal at @kairyssdal