By Nate Delesline III
Published on August 2, 2021
Learn More About the On-Campus Experience
For college students who live and learn on campus, room and board typically comprises the second highest on-campus expense after tuition. Students should also anticipate other costs beyond tuition and basic room and board.
Examples of potential on-campus expenses include meal plans, residential security deposits, and healthcare, activity, and technology fees. According to Admissionsly.com, students seeking a four-year degree should expect to spend between $1,400 and $2,100 monthly on expenses in addition to tuition. Together, these expenses can significantly increase your overall cost of college.
Students residing off campus may face different costs beyond tuition. These possible off-campus expenses include apartment lease application fees, phone and internet service, and the cost of furnishing an empty living space. Some expenses, like campus parking, will apply whether you live on or off campus.
While not an exhaustive list, this guide highlights suggestions for identifying, reducing, and possibly avoiding common on-campus costs.
Room and Board
In some cases, colleges require first year or non-local students to live on campus, so room and board can become an unavoidable expense. Beyond the room itself — usually a shared space with at least one other person — on-campus living expenses may include security deposits and renter's insurance. You will likely pay to do laundry. Many people also upgrade basic dorm room furniture with additional amenities to enhance comfort and style.
Students residing on campus usually opt for a meal plan. Meal plan costs can range anywhere from $872-$8,272 according to one 2020 analysis. Rising living expenses represent the largest barrier to college affordability at public universities, according to a report from the American Enterprise Institute.
Off-campus living typically offers larger, more private living spaces and access to a kitchen, so you can make your own food. You can also choose who to live with. If you decide to return home for the holidays or study abroad, you do not need to move out while you're away.
However, off-campus living will not always save you money. For example, you may pay less in monthly rent to share an off-campus apartment, but you'll likely need to pay for utilities too. Depending on where you live, you'll need to factor in commuting costs to campus. Also consider that living off campus may mean less connection to your school's social and community life.
Whether you live off or on campus, staying active, engaged, and entertained will cost money. Exactly how much it will cost depends on your school and your personal interests. For example, some colleges offer free intramural sports. Some schools include the cost of participating in intramural sports in student activity fees. Other schools may charge a small registration fee per sport, along with uniform costs.
Sometimes mandatory student fees include perks. For example, the University of Virginia offers free student admission for on-campus athletic events. Other schools, like Arizona State University, even offer free season passes for sports through a mobile app for students who pay a $75 athletic fee. Four out of five of the 230 public universities in the U.S. with Division I athletic teams charge all students a fee to finance sports programs. These fees range from $14 to more than $3,300 annually.
If you're a fine arts or performing arts student, remember to budget for equipment, supplies, and professional development. For example, music students might want membership in the College Music Society. An annual $42 student membership includes webinars, mentoring, and exclusive job listings.
Most college campuses feature clubs that cater to nearly every student interest — everything from politics and social justice, to fine arts and faith-based organizations. Fees for these organizations vary.
On-campus expenses depend on your specific circumstances. It's not possible to avoid every on-campus cost or fee. But consider these strategies to reduce or eliminate some of your expenses.
If you need on-campus parking, check what options your school offers. Parking rates vary depending on how often you visit campus, where you need to park, and if you'll leave the vehicle overnight. If available, consider off-campus parking as another option. One easy way to eliminate this expense? Consider if you need a car at all. If you only need a vehicle occasionally, consider walking, biking, using a rideshare, like Uber or Lyft, or a shared car service, like Zipcar.
Technology fees cover on-campus expenses such as Wi-Fi network maintenance, remote learning software, content management systems, and software and hardware for student learning. In addition, schools usually fund computer labs, smart classroom equipment, staff training, and information technology security with a student technology fee.
Most colleges and federal government financial aid rules consider 12 credits per semester a full-time load. That equates to four, three-credit classes per semester. Colleges may charge a course overload fee for students who want to take extra classes. The course instructor or an academic officer, such as a dean or registrar, may need to approve an overload request. However, taking extra courses means you may finish school in four years — or even earlier.
Residing on campus requires following housing cleanliness and safety rules. Failure to take care of your living facilities may result in fees to repair building damages. Some schools also impose fines to penalize behavior that violates the rules. Colleges assess fees for everything from losing a room key, to using unauthorized appliances.
The coronavirus pandemic damaged colleges' financial outlook. Covid-19 cost colleges an estimated $183 billion in lost revenue, future decreases in state funding, and other costs, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
As a result of declining revenue and a steep uptick in unanticipated expenses, some colleges charge students coronavirus-related fees. These fees cover testing, social distancing measures, enhanced cleaning, and remote learning programs. The fees range from $50-$475.
University libraries provide a wealth of information and services. Damaging or losing materials can result in fees or fines. Library expenses may range from $2 for failure to return overdue materials to $150 or more to replace lost items. Avoid this on-campus cost by not damaging or losing anything you check out of the library and returning it on time.
Once you've turned that information from the library into academic work, you might need to print it. As a cost control measure, many colleges no longer offer unlimited free printing and copying for students. As of June 2021, Yale University, for example, charges students 8 cents per image for the first side and 4 cents per image for the second side for black and white printing. The college charges 25 cents per side for color images.
Questions About On-Campus Expenses
Personal expenses cost college students an estimated $3,280 in 2019-2020. This category includes expenses like personal hygiene, hair care, car-related costs, transportation, and entertainment.
College students should expect to spend between $1,400 and $2,100 monthly on expenses beyond tuition. That equals about $40-$70 per day.
It depends. On-campus versus off-campus living costs vary depending on the local housing market. By residing off campus, your financial responsibilities may include utilities, cleaning, meals, and transportation to and from campus.
Disadvantages of living on campus include small spaces, limited privacy, noise, and frequent distractions. You'll need to follow dorm rules for visitors. You may also need to move out during school breaks.
Nate Delesline III
Nate Delesline III is a Virginia-based writer covering higher education. He has more than a decade of experience as a newspaper journalist covering public safety, local government, business, transportation, and K-12 and higher education.
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