Going to college comes with a lot of firsts, like living away from home, choosing your own classes, and sharing a room with someone who isn’t related to you. For some students, a tuition bill will be the first time they are in charge of paying a bill themselves. This can seem intimidating but knowing what to expect will make the process less stressful. Soon, you’ll be a pro and won’t think twice about your ability to handle this new responsibility. Here’s what you need to know.
1. How to access your tuition bill
Your first tuition bill will arrive the summer before you start school, likely by email or through your school’s student portal. Make sure your online account information is up-to-date, and that the email address listed is one you check frequently. (You should also be sure to check your school email account regularly.)
Regardless of who is paying for your school, the bill will come to you—the student. In most cases, you can add your parent as an authorized user of your account so they can make payments on your behalf. If your parents are planning to pay for school (or contribute funds), doing this can make things easier for you both, so set it up as soon as you can.
2. What to look for on your statement
When you receive the billing statement, go through it carefully to make sure everything is correct. If you find any errors, contact the bursar’s office ASAP. If it’s a financial aid-related issue, such as not seeing some expected aid applied to your account, contact the financial aid office. Here’s what you can expect to find:
- Basic information. Things like your name and address, year in school, type of enrollment (full-time or part-time).
- Charges. These will include tuition and fees and room and board (if you live on-campus), as well as miscellaneous charges like parking fees. Go over every line item to make sure it’s correct.
- Credits. This includes any money the school has already received or expects to receive toward this bill. Prior payments and deposits as well as financial aid disbursements, institutional grants, and scholarships would be listed here. Double-check that any expected disbursements have been listed and that any payments you’ve made have been applied. You should also receive a notice of disbursement when student loan funds are disbursed to your school.
- Balance. Your charges minus any credits is the balance of what you owe.
- Due date. When you need to make the payment by. This is typically before the semester starts.
3. Lining up your funds
Most students use a variety of sources to help them pay for school, including financial aid, federal student loans, and savings. Some sources like student loans, grants, and scholarships from your school may be applied directly to your bill. Other sources like a 529 plan may require some time to schedule a disbursement. So, it’s important to understand your school’s payment schedule so all your funding arrives before the payment due date.
If you find that your bill is higher than anticipated or you have less funding available than you thought you would, you can talk to the school to see what options they have, apply for more scholarships, and look into private student loans if you have exhausted your other options. If you need a private student loan, you should typically apply 45–60 days before your bill is due to get through the application process so the loan will disburse on time.
4. Decide how you’ll pay
If you can’t or don’t want to pay your bill in full all at once, the school may have tuition payment options you can choose from. In some cases, you can opt to break up your bill into monthly installments. While this may be easiest on your finances, some schools charge an enrollment fee. You may also have the choice to defer part or all of your payment. Contact the bursar's office to find out what payment arrangements are available.
You may also have a choice of payment methods.
- eCheck or ACH: Electronic payments are fast and easy.
- Paper checks: These can often be delivered in person or sent by mail. If you’re sending it in, make sure to mail it in time to arrive by the due date.
- Credit cards: Some schools accept credit card payments, and they typically charge a fee.