Understanding College Costs: An Overview

college costs

When you’re deciding where to attend college, what are the things you think about? Size? Classes offered?

If you’re like most other undergraduate students, the cost of college is one of the most important – if not the most important – factor that weighs into your college decision.

Often, though, college websites admissions officers may not give you the full picture of what to expect with your college costs. We’ve prepared this guide to give you a better understanding of all of the expenses that you’ll need to consider.

Tuition

Your college tuition is at the heart of your college costs and is likely the first number that admissions officers will tell you. Most colleges calculate your tuition cost by credit, and this number can vary based on a few factors. You’ll likely take between 12 to 15 credits each term if you’re a full-time student, so you can plan for your tuition costs accordingly.

If you’re attending a public university, in-state college tuition costs will be significantly lower than out-of-state costs. Costs also depend on the type of class you’re taking. Some colleges that offer online classes will charge an extra fee for the online version of an in-person class. Adding a few graduate-level courses to your curriculum will also raise the price.

Universities that don’t charge tuition by credit may provide a flat rate for tuition, which may decrease your tuition per class if you’re taking more classes.

For instance, say your college charges $3,000 for a semester of 12 to 15 credits. If you take 12 credits, each one will cost $250. If you take 15 credits, each one will only cost $200. If you have a heavier course load, a flat rate will be more beneficial to you.

Other Academic Costs

The sticker price that your university advertises for its tuition costs likely isn’t what you’ll actually be paying. Be prepared to budget for extra academic costs that you won’t be aware of until you’re enrolled in classes.

Students are often required to pay fees to attend class, especially at the undergraduate level. Your college might add an extra charge for each one of your classes under a name similar to “learning fees.”

Keep in mind that you’ll also have to pay for any textbooks or academic resources that your classes require. While some of your professors might not care if you get an old edition of a textbook from Amazon, some might require you to buy an online edition from your school’s academic portal so you can complete digital activities and quizzes.

Your major also will play a role in the additional learning materials you buy. If you’re an art major, not only will you have to buy the necessary textbooks, but you’ll also need art supplies to complete class projects. If you’re a computer science major, you’ll likely need a certain type of computer and software programs.

Room

If you’re planning to live on or near campus instead of living at home, you’ll have to account for your living expenses. These are known as your “room” costs.

Most colleges will have on-campus living options for students during their first two years, and some universities even require it. You’ll likely be able to choose from a variety of on-campus living options, each with its own amenities. Typically, dorms or apartments that are closer to campus have private bathrooms. More storage space will be more expensive.

While some students live on-campus all four years, it’s likely that you’ll live off-campus for at least part of your college experience. Depending on the area, living off-campus can be more or less expensive than living in a dorm. If you live in a city, expect higher room costs than if you live in a small college town.

Also, keep in mind that living off-campus brings extra costs. You’ll need to pay for your security deposit, repairs, utilities, and parking spot. Many complexes that allow pets will require you to pay a monthly fee.

Typically, you’ll have to sign a year-long lease. That means, even if you’re not taking classes during the summer, you’ll still have to pay monthly rental fees.

And remember that your off-campus housing may only include the cost of rent. You still could have to pay for furniture and appliances. Even if your apartment does provide furniture, you’ll have to pay for your bedding, decorations, and storage options.

Board

Your board is another college cost used to describe your food costs. Your board, in addition to your tuition costs, living expenses, and other academic fees, should be counted as a separate item on your budget.

You’ll likely have a few options for your food. Almost every university will offer a few meal plans. From 24/7 access to 10 meals a week, you can choose the option that makes the most sense for your lifestyle and your budget.

School meal plans may cost more than preparing meals yourself, but it will save you the hassle of preparing your own food. This can be a nice adjustment for incoming students. You also will have predictability in your food costs, which will be helpful for budgeting purposes.

If you live on campus, every meal will be a convenient walk away. However, if you live off-campus, it might make more sense for you to make your own meals.

You can scout out a grocery store nearby your apartment. Most of the time, you’ll have a few places nearby with a range of prices and options. Instacart, the grocery delivery service, has also become a popular option for students who don’t have cars.

Transportation

Although the first costs that come to mind when you think about college are usually tuition, room, and board, your transportation costs play a significant role in your college costs, too.

Choosing to bring your car to college means that aside from paying your normal maintenance and gas expenses, you’ll also need to pay for parking. Each student may need to purchase a parking detail to park on campus, a parking pass for their residence, and, in some cases, city parking. You could end up spending hundreds of dollars a month on parking alone.

Students who don’t bring their cars will still need to get around, though. Unless you rely on friends to take you everywhere, you’ll need to pay for public transportation or use rideshare services.

Most of the students attending college in any U.S. state aren’t actually residents of that state, so they’ll have to travel to visit family and old friends. If you’re one of those students, you may have to take a train, bus, or even plane to go home during the holidays and summers. These will add to your transportation costs, too.

Extracurriculars

Attending college isn’t just about academics. It’s a great time to meet new people and learn more about your interests. Most colleges offer hundreds – if not thousands – of student organizations for you to join.

While these organizations can be one of the most rewarding parts of your time in college, they likely will have costs.

Greek Life

If you choose to become a part of Greek life, you’ll be joining over 750,000 students and 9 million alumni in the United States. Members have cited that being a part of a Greek organization has helped their people skills, given them a strong network, and connected them with their campus.

The benefits of going Greek aren’t inexpensive, though – the average fees per semester range from $600 up to $6,000. Costs can go even higher if you take into account room and board at your chapter’s house, events, and social fees.

New members will also have to pay a registration fee. And should you need to take a semester off, you’ll also have to pay an inactive member fee.

Pre-Professional Societies

From business networks to honor societies, pre-professional organizations are one of the best ways to learn more about your career field and motivate yourself during college. Many offer advantages including exclusive travel opportunities and leadership seminars.

The benefits that you get from a pre-professional society typically come from the membership dues that you pay. A pre-professional organization at your school may only cost you $100 a year but may give you limited options. Meanwhile, some charge dues that reach the thousands, but boast millions of dollars in scholarship funds and thousands of networking opportunities.

Sports Teams

You don’t have to be an NCAA athlete to play a team sport in college. Most colleges offer club teams, intramural teams, or even fitness clubs where you can try out different sports.

Joining a sports team in college is a great way to meet new friends and stay fit, but you should know the costs associated with participating in one. A club team will be the most competitive, hosting tryouts and often requiring a fee to join. You’ll also have to pay for team outings like dinners.

An intramural team is the most affordable and low-commitment way to join a competitive sports team in college.

Spending Money

During your time in college, you’ll be meeting lifetime friends, exploring your college town, and learning more about your interests and hobbies. You’d be wise to factor in the lifestyle costs associated with how you want to spend your time.

Look around the area to see what students do for fun. Are there lots of local restaurants and places to go out? It’s likely that you’ll end up there on the weekends.

Does your school have popular sports programs? Although you may receive free student admission to most events, popular sports like basketball and football may require you to purchase a ticket.

Are there any common traditions for students, like hosting a a big 21st birthday party? Although you may not want to follow all of the trends that students at your campus participate in, it’s good to be aware of potential costs.

Study Abroad

College is the perfect time to explore the world via a study abroad program, a way to advance your studies and live in a new country at the same time. Most people who study abroad do so in their college years.

For American students, a study abroad program can last the length of a few months to an entire year. Though semester-long study abroad programs are common, summer study abroad programs are the most popular with students.

Depending on the length of your program and the country you choose to live in, the costs of your program will vary. The cost of living in that country, your school’s programs there, and the classes you’ll take there will all impact the final price.

A study abroad program can add a significant expense to your total college costs, but with the right planning, it doesn’t have to be impossible.

Managing Your College Costs

Now that you have a better understanding of all of the costs you need to keep in mind for life as a college student, you can start thinking about the ways you will prepare for all of your expenses.

Creating a budget, opening a college bank account, and writing out your spending goals are all great ways to begin establishing smart spending habits.

For more help managing your college costs, contact our team! We’re more than happy to help you on your path to collegiate success.

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