College Expenses

Learning Objectives

  • Identify sources of major and minor expenses in your life, including the cost of college

College students often have money concerns, such as affording college while still paying other bills. These concerns can affect their academic success. For instance, money problems are stressful and can prevent students from concentrating on their studies. Or, if students have a lot of personal expenses, they may try to work more hours to cover costs of living, leaving them with less time to study. Worse yet, some money problems, such as extreme debt, may cause students to drop out of college entirely.

Analyzing one’s financial responsibilities and planning ways to pay for expenses can help reduce stress.

Identifying Expenses

College students are diverse and may be in different stages of their lives. For example, some students may have just graduated from high school, while other may be older and have families. While these differences will have an impact on financial responsibilities, there are certain financial obligations most college students have to pay for.

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College students are often aware of room and board expenses but may forget to factor in the cost of necessities like furniture, kitchen appliances, and other household items for their dorms or apartments.

Usually, when people hear the words college costs, they think of tuition and room and board. Unfortunately, those costs are only part of the picture. The real cost of college includes a much wider list of expenses, such as the ones below:

  • Tuition: Tuition includes the cost of attending classes. This varies by school and also depends on how many courses and credits a student takes.
  • Other institution-related fees: Most colleges also charge quarterly or annual fees that cover student services such as the library, athletics, and campus maintenance.
  • Room and board: Room and board fees include the cost for housing and meals (usually on campus). These vary by school and region.
  • Books and supplies: Most students need to purchase books during their college career. They also need to pay for basic school supplies and equipment (backpack, folders, pens, etc.). Some of these, such as graphing calculators and computers, can be expensive. While they may not be required to purchase them, many students find that it’s more convenient and efficient to own their own laptop or computer so they don’t have to borrow one or work around library hours.
  • Living and transportation: Students living off campus and not living at home will have to think about paying rent. Whether you live off campus or in a dorm room, you might want to purchase household items like furniture and kitchen appliances. Students may also have vehicles that need gas and routine maintenance, or they may need to purchase passes for public transportation.
  • Personal needs and entertainment: Students will need to pay for personal items such as clothing, toiletries, etc. They will also probably want to spend money on recreational activities, going out with friends, and so on.

What types of expenses do you think you might face as a college student? The following video will help you review the types of college expenses and examine particular costs that are common for both four-year and two-year institutions. Pay attention to the differences between public 2-year, public 4-year, private nonprofit 4-year, and for-profit colleges of all levels.

You can view the transcript for “What is the Price of College?” here (opens in new window).

Consider this passage from “The Hidden Costs in the Soaring Price of Higher Education,” by Spencer Rogers:

It’s no secret that four-year college tuition rates have skyrocketed over the past few decades, almost tripling since 1980. In the last six years alone tuition at public universities has risen over 21%, and there is no end in sight. Climbing tuition rates are a huge problem and limit social mobility, thereby maintaining our socio-economic imbalance – but at least people know about it, they are trying to do something about it. It’s one thing to face an uphill battle combating costs that are alive and well in the public conscious, what about the one that aren’t?

Remember that 6 year, 21% increase in college tuition? What if I told you prices for room and board have risen the same amount, in the same period? According to College Board the cost of room and board at public universities has risen about 20% since 2009. And private universities are almost as bad, having increased their room and board prices by about 17% of the same time – and many private institutions require their students to live on campus.

According to Richard Vetter, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, “This is the untold story… we focus on tuition, but we need to look at other costs too.”


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