Figure Out What College Will Really Cost You
Don't be surprised by the costs of college. Understand what your college budget will be and how you'll pay for it.
When you’re looking at college costs and trying to determine how much financial aid you may need, it’s important to factor in all the expenses you’re likely to incur throughout the school year.
Whether you’re applying to four-year colleges and universities, community colleges or online colleges, it’s easy to get confused about what your education is likely to cost you. Just looking at tuition for each school isn’t the whole picture. Read on for a better idea of what your college degree might cost you – and how to be on the lookout for additional fees.
When you talk to the admissions officers and financial aid representatives at the colleges and universities you’re considering, ask them about how much a college student will generally spend in a given year.
The Two Kinds of College Costs
When you’re talking to the admissions department or financial aid office at the colleges you’re considering, you may hear the terms “billable costs” and “indirect costs.” Understanding what these words mean will help give you a better sense of what your degree will cost you. Billable costs are fixed costs that you will be billed for by the college or university you attend. These include tuition, student fees and room and board, if you live in student housing provided by the college.
When you’re determining what college will really cost you, however, you also have to figure in indirect costs in the money for college you allot. These can include a number of expenses, from books and supplies for your courses to laundry, Internet costs and off-campus housing if you don’t want to live at the college.
Both of these costs combined are known as your cost of attendance (COA), which is an estimate of what a year of college will cost.
Determining Your Cost of Attendance
Calculating what indirect costs you’ll face and ensuring you have enough college money to pay for it can be challenging, since you don’t yet know what you’ll experience while at college and don’t know how many federal grants, college scholarships and college loans you may get to help offset the costs. But having a basic idea of the types of costs you may incur will help you create a realistic budget.
Here is an overview of where you’ll be putting your college money:
- Room and board
- Living expenses (the college meal plan, for example)
- Transportation and travel (this includes commuting costs, traveling home on breaks, visiting friends or boyfriends/girlfriends at other schools)
- Personal expenses (this includes laundry, toiletries and phone charges)
- Dependent care
- Computer purchase and Internet
- Costs related to a disability
- Costs for a study abroad program
- Entertainment (cable TV, movies, meals, socializing with friends, etc.)
The type of schools you’re considering will affect the amount of these costs. For example, tuition is often most of the cost at private colleges, while room and board is likely to be the main cost at a public college or university. At online colleges and community colleges, you’re likely to live at home, so you won’t incur additional housing costs.
When you talk to the admissions officers and financial aid representatives at the colleges and universities you’re considering, ask them about how much a college student will generally spend on these costs in a given year. This will help you determine what you can expect to pay at that particular school, so you can set up a budget and make sure you get enough in federal grants, college scholarships and college loans to cover your expenses.
- Remember that many students take out extra loans to help pay for their living expenses. Compare student loans to make sure you have to repay as little money as possible upon graduation.
- You’ll also need to spend money for college classes. Visit a school bookstore to see what textbooks cost for the majors you’re considering.
- Don’t forget about your dorm room. If you’re moving on campus, you’ll need to decorate it. For the average college student, that means buying new bedding, closet organizers, desk accessories, a microwave, mini fridge, everything you’ll need to be comfortable and organized in your new home.
- Is your college in a different climate? That could mean buying winter clothes, ski equipment or surfing gear. What about the location? In an urban environment, you may need a bus pass, subway card or parking permits. In a suburban or rural area, you may spend more on gas to drive places.