“Opportunity cost is the profit lost when one alternative is selected over another.” In other words, opportunity cost is what someone gives up to gain something else. Therefore, in light of your question, you want to consider what one would give up in either purchasing a car or going to college.
As the first part of your question requires you to relate the two opportunity costs, we will begin there. If someone chose to purchase a car instead of going to college, one might gain reliable transportation, independence, and an ability to work a steady job. In fact, for someone who does not want to go to college at all, purchasing a car might enable that individual to enter the workforce, earn money, gain experience, and excel in many other ways. College might be a waste of time and money for one who does not want to attend or already has other training/skills one wants to pursue. In this case, the opportunity cost of gaining the car would be less than the opportunity cost of going to college.
On the other hand, if one just wants a car and does not consider the long-term benefits of a college education, one might be disappointed. A car usually has a limited number of beneficial years, whereas a college education can benefit an individual for life. If someone just wants a car to have a car and does not map out a plan for succeeding in life, then the opportunity cost of buying a car instead of going to college might be tremendous, especially if the car is expensive.
There are many variables to consider that might determine the opportunity cost of going to college and buying a car. The second half of your question states that the two choices do not have to be mutually exclusive. Therefore, as you answer the question, consider the following aspects of each opportunity cost.
In relation to the choice to go to college, the opportunity cost could be determined by how far away the college is, how much it costs to attend, how much one might have to borrow in loans to attend, how lucrative one’s major would be, etc. The opportunity cost of going to college might be tremendous if one cannot work at the same time, or one would spend many years paying off one’s loans. If a married student is considering going to college, one would have to consider how that decision would impact one’s family, time, relationships, and income. On the other hand, the opportunity cost might be minimal if one can secure an enjoyable, strong, stable job after college and succeed in one’s field for the rest of one’s life.
In relation to purchasing a car, the opportunity cost could be determined by the price of the car, its age and condition, the history of the car, and its versatility for many years. One would also have to include the cost of insurance, registration, tires, and maintenance for a car to weigh what one might have to give up to own a car. Would someone have to work more to buy the car or give up living in a nice area? What other bills would one have that would determine the cost of the car? You could include alternate modes of transportation in your analysis. Additionally, you might consider how much a car could contribute to saving time and how it might be used for good in one’s life, as well.
These are some ideas and realistic factors to consider when answering your question. You can certainly include many more factors and scenarios, as well. I have attached some websites that provide more examples of opportunity cost.