What Does College Actually Cost?
For most college students, housing costs are the biggest expense after tuition. According to the college board, room and board on campus at a public four-year university during the 2017-18 school year was $10,800. At private, non-profit universities, that figure jumped to $12,210. For those students living off-campus, the College Board reported that the 2018-19 national average for living expenses during the nine-month academic year is $18,730, on a moderate budget.
If your school requires you to live in a dorm, you can help keep college costs down by choosing one of the lower-cost housing options. If you can live off-campus, look into splitting the monthly rent between several roommates, find an apartment further away from campus, or if you are within commuting distance of the college, consider living at home.
Textbooks and Other Supplies
Among the major college costs today's students have to consider are textbooks and other academic supplies. The College Board found that students spent about $1,200 on books and other supplies in 2017-18 at both public and private non-profit four-year schools. You may be able to reduce this expense by buying used textbooks and supplies or by using digital versions of textbooks whenever possible. You also may be able to purchase previous editions of textbooks, but check with your professor before you buy.
Dining on campus also doesn't come cheap. A story in Money looked at federal data on campus dining contracts and found that a 19-meal-per week plan during the 2015 academic year cost students about $4,300 at the average college.
However, most schools offer flexible meal plan options, so if you have access to a kitchen or even just a microwave, you may be able to save money by making some of your own meals. You can also split the cost of groceries or a discount bulk-food store membership with a roommate to save on essentials. Cutting down on food expenses can add up to useful savings on your overall college costs.
If you take your car to college, you'll likely have to buy a parking pass. The annual cost of college parking passes varies from school to school, so do your research beforehand so that you know what to expect. Affordable Schools reports that parking costs can be anywhere from $40 up to $2,500 per semester, depending on where the school is located. It's no surprise that often parking costs are much higher in bigger cities. To help cut the costs of parking (and gas) consider using public transportation, walking or riding a bike.
The item largely responsible for rising college costs is likely tuition. According to the College Board, tuition and fees have grown at a steady pace in the last three decades. These costs at public four-year institutions grew from $3,190 in 1987-88 to $9,970 in 2017-18. That's more than a 200 percent increase. At private non-profit four year schools, tuition and fees increased nearly 130 percent from $15,160 in 1987-88 to $34,740 in 2017-18.
You can help offset the cost of tuition by using free money that doesn't have to be paid back. Filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) will determine your eligibility for institutional scholarships, grants and work-study programs. You should also apply for private scholarships both before you head to campus and throughout college to help reduce your expenses.
FAFSA is a registered service mark of the U.S. Department of Education.