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Home > Paying for College > What Does College Cost? > Understanding Price

 

Understanding Price

The different things you will be paying for in college.

 

There are five factors usually included when calculating the total price of attending a college each year:

Tuition and Fees

Students pay tuition for receiving instruction at the school. In addition, there are fees automatically charged for services such as the health center, library or student activities.

Tuition and fees at public institutions are usually the lowest, especially for students who are residents of that state. Most public colleges charge higher rates for out-of-state students, unless there is some type of reciprocity involved. Tuition and fees are typically the highest at private colleges. View current tuition and fees.

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Room and Board

This refers to the basic price of living at the school during the academic year. "Room" refers to housing, whether it's in an on-campus dormitory or in an off-campus apartment. "Board" refers to the price of eating, whether it's in the college cafeteria or buying food and preparing meals yourself.

Four-year colleges and universities usually have a number of options compared to most two-year colleges:

  • Campus housing that's usually less expensive than off-campus options. The college typically charges a nine-month fee for room rental (excluding the time around the holidays). Meals are available, but are usually charged separately.

  • Off-campus apartments where students can either prepare their own meals or pay extra to eat in the college cafeteria.

  • Rooming houses where meals are often provided. Or, students may pay extra to eat in the college cafeteria.

  • Living at home and commuting to campus. This is usually the least expensive option.

Not all room and board options are available at all schools. Many two-year schools do not have on-campus housing. Some larger schools only have college housing for undergraduates or only for first- and second-year students. Some colleges do not allow students to live off campus until their third or fourth year. Contact individual schools for specific details.

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Books and Supplies

Unlike in high school, students in college are expected to buy their own books. In addition, they're expected to purchase their own pencils, paper, art supplies, calculators and computer supplies - whatever they need to complete their courses.

The price of books and supplies depends more on the courses a students takes than on the type of school a student attends. For example, physics students often have to pay for lab expenses. Art students must buy their own art supplies such as paint, brushes, chalk, clay and so on. Students should plan to spend at least $900 each academic year on books and supplies.

Buying used textbooks can help students save money, and may be available in the campus bookstore or from online used booksellers such as:

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Personal Expenses

Regardless of the type of institution the student chooses, he or she will have some personal expenses such as laundry, clothing, recreation, medical care, insurance and so on. Students should plan to spend at least $1,000 each academic year on these items.

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Transportation Expenses

All students spend some money for travel, whether they live on campus or commute to school daily. Students living on or near campus must travel there at the start of the school year and return home at the end. Most students also go home at least once during the year.

If a student plans to travel home more often, this additional expense must also be considered. For the purpose of financial aid, colleges typically budget students for two round-trips home each year using the lowest-cost means of travel.

Commuter students who travel to and from the school on a daily basis must carefully figure in the cost of fuel and parking or public transportation. Both can add up quickly. The transportation costs for commuter students are also built into the financial aid calculations used by the school.

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