A Breakdown of College Costs

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College costs continue to rise. But how much, exactly, does college cost? When you add up tuition, housing, books, extracurriculars, and more, becoming a student costs over $20,000 annually.

Are those college costs worth it? A degree increases job opportunities and earning potential. And students can lower their costs in many ways. Some learners use college scholarships to cover college costs. Some companies pay for college. And student loans help learners cover costs. This guide breaks down college costs to help students make informed choices and budget for school.

Break down your current financial situation, and receive a college tuition estimate you can afford to pay.

Tuition and Fees

For many students, college tuition and fees represent the largest college cost. Fortunately, learners benefit from a range of college tuition rates depending on the institution type. In-state, public colleges typically charge the lowest tuition rates, while private nonprofit institutions charge the highest rates. The following table shows the average cost of tuition and fees by institution.

However, many students pay less than the posted tuition rate thanks to financial aid. Grants, scholarships, and institutional aid can make a college that looks expensive at first glance much more affordable.

What kinds of fees do college students pay? Many schools charge facilities fees, student body fees, and health and safety fees. Students should also consider application fees, standardized test fees, and any graduation fees. Before applying to college, ask an admissions counselor about tuition, fees, and the net price of attending.

Average Cost of Tuition and Fees, 2019-2020
Public Institutions Private For-Profit Institutions Private Nonprofit Institutions
$9,425 $19,085 $36,689

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Room and Board

Whether on or off campus, living expenses make up a large part of the student cost for college. Typically, living on campus comes with the highest bill. At many schools, students spend over $11,000 annually to live on campus, just during the academic year. Living off campus costs slightly less, while living with family costs the least.

Students can lower their housing costs in many ways. The choice of where to live — dorms, apartments, rental homes, or at home — can make the largest difference. After paying rent, students can save by focusing on how much spending they use for food. On campus, students often sign up for a meal plan. While meal plans typically cost more than buying your own food, they may come at different levels to save money.

Cost-conscious students can research their options — including any on-campus living requirements — to find the best option for their budget.

Average Cost of Room and Board, 2019-2020
Living Choices Public Institutions Private For-Profit Institutions Private Nonprofit Institutions
On-Campus $11,303 $12,540 $10,188
Off-Campus, Living With Family $4,204 $4,220 $4,558
Off-Campus, Not Living With Family $10,631 $9,943 $9,395

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Textbooks and Supplies

The cost of textbooks and supplies often totals more than $1,000 per year. At the college level, most classes require textbooks or other class materials like reading packets. In some classes, particularly in the sciences, a single textbook can cost over $100. Students can save money on textbooks by buying used books, sharing textbooks, or using their campus library. Typically the campus bookstore charges more for textbooks than other sellers.

On top of textbooks, students need computer equipment to complete their work. Distance learners rely on laptops to attend class. Students taking in-person classes rely on computers to write papers, participate in discussion groups, and complete assignments. Many computer sellers offer discounts for students.

Finally, certain classes require extra supplies. Students might need to buy laboratory supplies, art supplies, or calculators for classes. At most schools, learners should budget at least $1,200 per year for books and supplies.

Average Cost of Books and Supplies, 2019-2020
Public Institutions Private For-Profit Institutions Private Nonprofit Institutions
$1,291 $1,255 $1,103

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Extracurriculars

Beyond living and academic expenses, college students often spend money on extracurricular activities. Student clubs, professional organization fees, and student athlete expenses add up. While these activities enrich the college experience, they can also deplete a student's budget. Depending on your lifestyle and passions, you might find extracurricular college costs worth it.

Before taking on extra costs, students should figure out how much spending on extracurriculars their budget can handle. Missing out on a networking opportunity because of low funds can hold graduates back. Make sure to realistically look at extracurricular costs during the academic year and over breaks. Fortunately, many colleges offer free extracurricular activities.

Travel

Travel involves many costs, including daily expenses like on-campus parking and infrequent costs like flying home during breaks. Students must budget for any transportation and commuting fees. For instance, many colleges offer discount transit passes. Learners can also find affordable ways to own a car in college.

Larger travel expenses, including school trips, travel during breaks, and visits home, can easily cost over $1,000 annually. When setting a college budget, learners should estimate travel expenses as closely as possible. Some colleges provide estimates of common transportation costs.

Other Expenses

Even after paying for tuition, living expenses, textbooks, and extracurriculars, students often end up with other expenses. For example, moving into the dorms or relocating for college adds moving expenses and furnishing. College students also spend money on clothing, phone plans, and entertainment. These costs can easily add hundreds each month to a student's budget.

On top of these one-time and recurring expenses, some students save up for study abroad programs. Studying internationally broadens a learner's horizons — but it comes at a cost. Students who plan ahead can find affordable options for studying abroad.

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