Discover is no longer accepting new student loan applications.
Applications received on or before January 31, 2024, 11:59 pm CT will be processed as usual.

Discover Student Loans
Discover Student Loans

check mark   Article highlights

  • The cost of room and board can sometimes surpass tuition and fees.
  • To make college housing more affordable, consider living off campus or at home while in school.
  • Grants, scholarships, and student loans can help pay for housing in college.

A place to live, along with food to eat, is likely the biggest non-tuition cost associated with college. For the 2022-23 school year, the College Board® reports that the average room and board at an in-state, four-year university is $12,310. That’s more than $1,000 above the average price of tuition and fees ($10,940) at the same type of school. And while that price tag might seem fixed, there are ways to trim the expense.

1. Make dorm life more affordable

  • Avoid the most expensive dorm. If you’re committed to the dorm experience or your school requires it for freshmen, there are ways to cut back on the associated costs. Even within the same school, different dorm buildings and room types can vary in price, which you may be able to take into account as you choose. Don’t forget to consider things like proximity to your classes and/or work-study job.
  • Coordinate with your roommate. For extra items you may want in your dorm room, like a microwave, mini refrigerator, or couch, reach out to your future roommate to see what they might bring.
  • Mind your meal plan. The meal plan is another place you can save. Opt for a smaller meal plan and supplement with inexpensive groceries, or choose an apartment-style dorm that doesn’t require a meal plan and you can cook your own meals. Of course, this only helps your bottom line if you actually shop for groceries and prep your own food. If you’re filling in with takeout and restaurant meals, you could end up spending more.
  • Become an RA. After your first year, you could apply to be an RA (resident advisor), a position that usually comes with free or discounted housing and sometimes a meal plan too.

2. Live off campus

Some schools require that you live on campus for a portion of your college experience—usually just your first year. But once you’ve met your school’s requirements for living on campus, you may find that living off campus is an option that saves you money.

  • Explore your options. The costs of off-campus housing can vary wildly depending on where your school is located, how far you live from campus, and the specifics of your setup. While you can’t do much about the first factor (other than transfer schools), the other two are entirely in your control. Just don’t forget to factor in commuting costs—if you move far enough away from campus, you’ll need to budget for public transportation or gas and parking if you have a car.
  • Get real about rent. Figure out how much you can realistically spend on rent, and then look for a place that fits your budget. That might be a house that you share with roommates close to campus or a studio apartment further afield.
  • Live with roommates. Keep in mind that the more people you live with, the more people you can share non-rent expenses with, like utilities and groceries. Work together to create a shared roommate budget to remain a team when tackling your finances.
  • Plan your meals and ditch the meal plan. By living off campus and not buying a meal plan, you can save on food costs too. Roommates can take turns cooking so you can enjoy the benefits of home-cooked meals with a fraction of the effort.

3. Live at home

  • Choose a school that’s close to home. Living on your own can be a part of the quintessential college experience—but it doesn’t have to be. And choosing a school that’s close to home and living with your parents can make a significant difference in the total cost of school and therefore the amount of student loan debt you graduate with.
  • Save on rent, food, laundry, and more. Even if your parents charge you rent, you’re still bound to save money while living at home. Plus, you’ll likely have free access to laundry and the kitchen, though you might want to chip in for groceries if you can. Your parents may treat you more like an adult during this time, and if you generally get along with them, you may find you appreciate their support as you make this big life transition.
  • Still spend time on campus. Of course, there are some downsides to this situation, including missing out on developing life skills gained when you leave the nest as well as social opportunities. To minimize the drawbacks, get involved in campus life through clubs and teams, and spend as much time on campus as you can.

Figuring out a housing plan you can afford

The right solution for you will depend a lot on your individual school, your personality, and your relationship with your family. Once you graduate, you’ll be faced with similar options and tradeoffs, including whether to prioritize location or cost, or whether you should live at home for a while to save money. Only you know what the right choice is for you.

How to pay for housing in college

  • Complete the FAFSA®. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is used to determine what type of financial aid you may be eligible for, including scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and federal student loans. In addition to tuition and fees, you can also use federal aid to help cover housing, transportation, and other eligible education expenses.
  • Apply for grants and scholarships. Depending on the terms, you may be able to use grants and scholarships for on- and off-campus housing. Some schools even offer scholarships specifically for housing expenses.
  • Consider private student loans. Similar to federal student loans, private student loans can also help cover expenses beyond tuition, including housing costs. Keep in mind that unlike grants and scholarships, you'll eventually have to pay back your loans—with interest—so be judicious about how much you borrow.

College Board® is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover® Student Loans.

How helpful was this content?




More to Explore