You Can Afford College

For Future Freshman Only

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Expenses to Consider


Another big expense that varies college-to-college is your living costs—otherwise known as room and board. You will also have to think about paying for books.

On Campus or Off?

Most universities have residence halls, and some schools require that you live on campus your first yearif you can afford it. Living on campus helps you become part of the campus community. It's easier to make friends, attend athletic and cultural events, and get involved in campus clubs and organizations.

You also can choose to commute and live off campus with your folks or roommates. Students sometimes commute to save money or because they like the independence it affords.

The term "board" refers to meals that can be purchased for a fee. Some colleges include meal plans as an option to your board; some do not. If you don't plan to eat at the college cafeteria where you have already paid for your meals, estimate how much money you'll need to buy groceries or to eat out.

You can certainly save money by living at home if you're attending a nearby college. But for many people, living in a residence hall is an important part of the college experience. Much like a small community, you can develop lifelong friendships with roommates and other hall residents. It's hard to put a price on the rewards (and long-lasting memories) you'll reap from the social interaction with others.

Use this chart to help calculate any financial differences between dorm life and off-campus life. Compare the estimated total of university housing with living off campus or with a family member.

Utilities Cost
(telephone, heat, electricity, etc.)
University Housing          
Off-campus apartment          
Living with family member          

Comparing Room and Board at Different Colleges

Room and board expenses vary from college to college (you might even receive financial aid to cover some living expenses). Here are three different schools' room and board estimates for the 2004-2005 academic year based on double-occupancy, university-owned housing with an average meal plan of 20 meals per week:

Room and Board Estimate
University of Denver $8,400
University of Colorado at Boulder $7,600
University of California at Berkeley $11,630

Remember, the cost of living in different states and towns varies widely whether you choose to live on or off campus. For example, your living costs probably are going to be higher in New York City than Greenville, Penn. Ultimately, this could influence your college choice.

Plus, if you choose to live off campus in an apartment, you must think about how much money you'll need for things like cooking utensils, utilities, cleaning supplies, and things you wouldn't need in a dorm settinglike furniture!

Read Between the Lines

Textbooks, too, are an enormous expense. Depending on your major, you could spend as much as $600 per semester. Though some universities have launched textbook rental programs to offset the high cost of books, you will want to own core texts in your major. So include textbooks in your college financial planning.

Used textbooks may be a great option if you don't mind trading a little "wear and tear" for a reduced price. Check to see if your college offers used books at the bookstore or through an online or other resource where students can deal directly with one another to buy and sell used books. The Internet has also become a place to purchase reduced-price and/or used books; the only caution is that you can't see the book before you purchase, thus it may be more risky. A few sites offering textbooks and/or price comparisons are www.bestbookbuys.com, www.campusbooks.com, or www.ecampus.com. There are a lot of other sites out there, so search around and make sure that the site is credible before giving any personal information.

Student fees can be another expense. These fees cover things such as student activities, health care, and other services. Some schools roll these fees into your tuition; some do not. Just be aware that fees should figure into your overall college financial planning.

Then there's transportation (will you need to fly home for Thanksgiving, the winter holidays, spring break?), parking, and spending money, which everyone needs. While you can control much of what you spend in this category by adjusting your lifestyle, plan for some money here. After all, you want to have some fun at college. Right?

Use the chart below to calculate how much money you spend now. Think about things you pay for, such as CDs, movies, meals out, and personal items. You might be surprised at the total.

Day of the Week
What I Bought
How Much It Cost

Hot tip: Test out of college credits! The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) and Advanced Placement (AP) tests allow you to test out of certain credits if you perform really well. This can save you a ton of money and shorten the time you spend in school. Most colleges accept credits earned by taking these tests, though some schools might limit the number of CLEP or AP credits you can apply to your transcript. Others may not accept these, or will only apply the credits to certain degree requirements, so you will need to check with you chosen college to get specific information. The tests are offered in a variety of subject areas. CLEP tests cost about $55 an exam (they're free to military service members); AP tests cost $82 each.

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