What Is Included in the Cost of College?

Figuring out how much college will actually cost isn’t the easiest process. There are a lot more factors and expenses that go into it besides the sticker price universities and colleges put out. Many people think that what a college charges for tuition is how much it costs to attend. Tuition is just one part of college costs.

Knowing the cost of attending college is the best way to start developing your paying for college strategy.

The list below outlines the different expenses that come with attending college.

The cost of taking courses. Course costs vary by school.

Room and Board
Lodging and food costs vary by school.

Books and school supplies
Books can be expensive. School supplies include:

  • book bags

  • notebooks

  • pens and pencils

  • paper and computer paper

  • desk accessories such as folders, trays, and pen holders

Fees depend upon your school. Examples include activity fees and parking decal fees. Schools can provide a list of fees.

Equipment and room materials
This category might include:

  • a computer and printer

  • reading lamps

  • a microwave and refrigerator

  • sheets, towels, etc.

Travel and miscellaneous expenses
These expenses can vary depending on where you go to school, whether you live on campus or at home, and how much financial aid you receive. 

  • If you commute to school, include transportation costs.

  • If you live on campus, include travel during school breaks.

  • You may also want to include clothing and mobile phone costs.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average yearly tuition and room and board costs for four-year public universities in the 2010-2011 school year were $15,918.

Every university is required by law to have what is known as a Net Price Calculator. Find the calculator on the university website or by asking the university admissions office.

The net price calculators may vary in quality from school to school, as they make their calculations based on different amount of questions regarding your particular situation; but in general, those calculators are a good tool to determine your estimated net price, or real cost of attendance, which is the total amount included in the cost of attending that college, minus the estimated amount of scholarships, grants and work-study that is available for a person with your demographic characteristics.

The Wall Street Journal has another good tool to help determine how much you will need to pay for your education. You can look up the cost breakdown for a specific school as well as graduation rates, graduates' salaries, and student borrowing. This tool also provides a worksheet to help you compare different colleges in your college list.

Use these tools to figure out how much it will cost you to go to the colleges in your college list. Then, start creating your paying for college strategy and narrowing down your list to include the schools you will think you’ll apply to during your senior year in high school. It is never too soon to start investigating the net cost of colleges, so start your search today!

Have a question? Let us know.
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