What's Included in the Cost of Attendance (COA)?

Learn how colleges calculate the cost of attending their school.

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Think tuition is the only cost you have to pay when getting your college degree? Think again. College tuition is just one of many costs that colleges and universities factor in to their overall cost of attendance (COA).

Because colleges and universities use this cost of attendance to determine the amount of financial aid you are eligible to get, it’s important to understand what’s included in this calculation so you know how much college money you’ll have to spend.

Remember to factor in costs related to your social life or extra-curricular activities

Components of the Cost of Attendance (COA)

Tuition is the primary cost of attending a private college, while room and board tends to be the larger cost at a public college or university. Check each college’s website or contact the admissions office to find out their cost of attendance.

Here are costs that colleges and universities are likely to consider when determining the cost of attendance:

  • Tuition
  • Room and board
  • Fees
  • Books
  • Living expenses (the college meal plan, for example)
  • Meals
  • Transportation and travel (this includes commuting costs, traveling home on breaks, visiting friends or boyfriends/girlfriends at other schools)
  • Personal expenses (such as 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.)

How the Cost of Attendance Affects Your Financial Aid

Colleges and the Department of Education use a simple formula to determine your financial need: the cost of attending their school minus your expected family contribution (EFC). The more money for college the school thinks your family has to spend on your education, the less financial assistance you’ll receive, in the form of federal grants, college scholarships and college loans.

What to Do When the Cost of Attendance Is Too High

How you spend your allotted money for college is up to you. If you’re determined to attend a specific school and the federal grants and college scholarships you’ve been offered don’t cover your expenses, look into private college loans for additional college money, but make sure you understand the college loans’ repayment policies. Take the time to compare student loans so you know you are able to make the payments when school is over.

You can also consider attending part-time to spread out college costs, or complete an associates degree at a community college first and then transfer your credits toward a bachelors degree at that school. Some community colleges even have arrangements with 4-year colleges or universities that make transferring easier for students.

College Cost of Attendance Tips & Tactics

  • Save money on textbooks and supplies by buying used items or sharing them with classmates.
  • Create a budget to help you stay on track each month.
  • Remember to factor in costs related to your social life or extra-curricular activities. If you join a fraternity or sorority, you’ll have to pay annual dues and other costs for events, and even joining an athletic team or club will have costs associated with it.


People Who Read This Article Also Read:

You're In! How Are You Going to Pay for College?
10 Things You Need to Know About Paying for College
Top 5 Mistakes Students Make with Financial Aid
Paying for College: The Basics
Figure Out What College Will Really Cost You
How Parents Can Help with Financial Aid

See All College Financial Aid: The Basics of Student Aid and FAFSA Articles

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