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Cost of Attending College

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When people think about the cost of attending college, they often think of tuition and fees. Sometimes they remember books. The cost of college is more than those two items. When the Department of Education crunches your numbers and determines if you are eligible for federal aid, they use the formula-COST OF ATTENDANCE minus EXPECTED FAMILY CONTRIBUTION equals NEED.

It is important to understand how the Cost of Attendance is determined because it can vary dramatically from one school to the next, but you cannot receive more aid or take out more loans than the cost of attendance for the school you attend. There will probably be different cost of attendance budgets for out of state vs. in state students; living at home or living on campus; full-time vs. part-time; dependent vs. independent; and married vs. single.

Tuition and fees are calculated based on what a student pays to attend the college. Most colleges will have an out of state cost of attendance budget because out of state fees will be higher. Many colleges will have a part-time cost of attendance budget because there is a different fee structure for part-time students. Know the numbers for each school you hope to attend.

The next component is Books and Supplies. Remember the cost of attendance budget is an average, so if you are in a major that requires higher priced books you will need to think strategically. There are numerous web sites that rent textbooks. Many college bookstores now have rental programs as well. Buy used books, especially for courses that are not in your major. Faculty often put books on reserve in the library. While you can use these for free, there are often very restrictive guidelines.


You will usually have to use the book in the library and can only get the book for 2-4 hours a day. If you are not disciplined, or if many students in the class hope to use this strategy, you will find yourself behind in your studies.

Room and Board Costs are another component of the Cost of Attendance budget. The budgets will vary depending on whether you live in a dorm, at home or away from home. If you are attending a college near your home, you can save a great deal on the cost of college by living with mom and dad a little longer. You will appreciate the savings when your student loan payments are lower. The amount in your budget can vary dramatically depending on the meal plan you choose or whether you eat at home.

The amount allowed in the Transportation Costs portion of the budget will depend on whether you are a commuting student or an out of state student. Many colleges allow for one or two round trip airfares home. They don’t increase the amount if you wait until the last minute to buy an airline ticket, but they also don’t decrease it if you snag a cheap flight that costs less than expected. Even students who live at home will have a transportation allowance in their budget.

The Miscellaneous Expenses component is expected to cover costs for toothpaste, deodorant, entertainment and other personal expenses. If mom and dad buy you giant economy personal care items from a Big Box store, you will have more to spend on other fun items. PLEASE NOTE: This component may be increased by the school if you have expenses associated with child care, a handicap or extensive medical bills. If you take out a student loan, your loan fees will be included in this portion of the budget.

As you can see, the cost of going to college is more than tuition and books. Sit down and write a budget. Look at your college’s cost of attendance budget. Really think about whether you will be able to live within your budget. Remember, you may not receive enough grant funding to get the amount allowed in your cost of attendance. Think about how much money you are willing to borrow for your education. Next time we will discuss ways to stretch your funds.

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