Financial Aid, Part 6: Understanding all the costs of a college education

Post By: COYD Staff

college expensesThe last 2 weeks we have discussed different aspects of the financial aid process from planning to the different financial aid programs that are available. However, without knowing the expenses involved in a college education, you can’t effectively plan the finances for your college education. Tuition is a huge portion of the costs, but many times parents and students forget that there are several other costs involved in a college education and realize mid-semester they need more money. The last thing you need is to worry about finances in the middle of mid-term exams. Below is a list of things, besides tuition, that you need to incorporate into your budget when planning your college education’s financial plan:


Aside from tuition, room and board are the biggest college expense. Normally, room and board will be included in your financial aid package; however, it is still important to pay attention to these costs. You might want to move off campus your sophomore year or make other changes that could impact the budget you need for room and board.


According to the US PIRG’s website, “students spend an average of $900 a year on textbooks – 20 percent of tuition at an average university and half of tuition at a community college”.** So this cost should not be overlooked. Other supplies can include binders, notebooks, pencils, art or music supplies.


A computer is pretty much a necessity these days. Desktops are usually cheaper than laptops. Most universities have computers publicly available for students in dorms and libraries, but many students end up buying one because they want to be able to use the computer at any time. Make sure to inquire about student discounts before you purchase a computer.


These include bedding, laundry hamper, alarm clock, toiletries, mini-refrigerator, book shelves, lamp, pillows, towels…etc. If you live in an apartment, you will need to buy your own bed, bed frame and desk. Furniture can be really expensive so utilize sites like Craigslist to buy a desk or bed frame. You can find almost new furniture for 1/4 of the original price.


You might think you won’t spend anything on entertainment, but it’s better to budget it in so that you don’t end up taking funds from another line item on your budget. Entertainment includes eating out, cable television, gifts, sporting event tickets, movie tickets, concerts, and even late night pizza runs. Your meal plan normally only covers 3 meals a day. Late night pizza runs are usually not anticipated in your food budget, but if you talk to any former student, late night food runs were an integral part of their college life (and those costs can add up). Some meal plans include a flex plan which includes late night food runs, but if they don’t you need to include that in your budget.


Some students will have a car on campus. If you do, make sure to calculate your gas expenses and car maintenance (oil changes, car wash…etc). Many students forget about just how expensive it is to maintain a car. If you do have a car, you should be a member of AAA just in case you have a flat tire or need towing services.

If you don’t need a car and your university has good public transportation, I would highly recommend utilizing it. Between gas, maintenance and unforeseen costs, a car is major expense in a student’s budget.

If you do decide to utilize public transportation, incorporate those expenses (usually a bus pass) into your budget as well.

Transportation also includes traveling to and from campus. According to the College Board website, the average spent on transportation in 2009-2010 for a four year public college student is $1,079.


These include cell phone service, laundry costs, and personal items like toiletries. According to the College Board’s website, the national average for these costs are $1974.

Once you lay out your budget for all of the 7 items, you should set aside about 10% of your monthly budget as a cushion. Unexpected costs come up all the time, and it’s good to have an emergency fund if you need it.



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