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Sep 18, 2018

The True Cost of Higher Education

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Whether you plan on attending trade school or are going for your doctorate, pursuing higher education is a big deal. You’ll be meeting new friends and individuals with common interests, exploring a new town or environment, and (of course) be soaking in knowledge from all of your studies. Ready or not, you’ve likely also been automatically enrolled in a crash course in personal financial and fiscal responsibility since paying for your education and the associated expenses aren’t cheap.

Don’t let your new journey be a rude awakening. Before you leave for campus, explore all of the costs associated with pursuing higher education (you can follow along while you’re reading using our handy guide):
Tuition & Fees
Tuition is something that you’ll pay each semester (as well as in summer or J-term if you choose to take class during regular academic year breaks). Schools typically publish tuition prices a few semesters at a time. Once that period is up, they may decide to increase (or decrease) tuition. The price you’ll pay each semester can be effected by:
  • In/Out-of-State Tuition Rates – Those who are a resident of the state where a higher education institution is located in will typically receive tuition rates much lower than those who reside out-of-state.
  • Reciprocity – If you live in a state neighboring where you plan to attend school, you may qualify for reciprocity, which is an agreement between states allowing neighboring residents to receive in-state tuition rates. For example, Minnesota residents can pay reduced tuition at many public colleges and universities in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin (there is also a limited reciprocity agreement with select community colleges in Iowa).
  • Legacy Tuition – If you’re attending a school that your parent(s) are alumni of, you may still qualify for in-state tuition if you are not a state resident.
  • Partner/Satellite Locations – Some larger colleges and universities have partner or satellite locations. Tuition may be different at these locations than at a school’s main campus.
  • Online Courses – With today’s modern technology, online courses are commonplace. If you plan to take online coursework, determine if your school has extra fees for this course type.
In addition to tuition, your school will likely also charge student fees each semester. While it varies by school, these fees go to support things like the upkeep of certain buildings (like student unions and recreation centers), student activities, student government, and some campus services (like those for technology support and health services).

Course Expenses
Unlike high school, you’ll need to purchase required materials for each course you’re enrolled in (in addition to your typical school supplies like notebooks, pencils, etc.). Materials will vary by course, but can get pricey. As reported by CBS News in January 2018, the College Board estimates the average college student spends on books and course materials to be more than $1,200 each year.
  • Textbooks – Each course you take will likely give a list of required and recommended materials. You can choose to buy from your school bookstore or elsewhere (like Amazon or an off-campus bookstore). Some schools do include textbook rental for general courses in tuition and fees, which can help you save you a lot!
  • Lab Fees – If you are taking a lab course, you may have to pay for the extra materials the department needs to provide for the course.
  • Other Course Costs – More specialized programs may require students to make additional purchases for classes (think background checks, immunizations, uniforms, and instruments for those going into medical fields, art supplies for various design courses, and flight costs for aviation programs).
Room & Board
If you’re living at home or still with family, this cost likely won’t impact you – win! Otherwise, living expenses can quickly add up when supporting education away from home.
  • Living On-Campus – If you live on-campus, your general living expenses will be comprised of your room (housing) and board (typically a meal plan). What you pay to live in on-campus housing (usually a semester at a time, like tuition) will likely include many things that would be split out into separate bills if you had chosen to live off-campus. Of course, there are some tradeoffs. Depending on what housing your school offers, you may need to share a laundry room, bathrooms, and kitchen space with others on your floor or in your building. The price you pay will also vary depending on what type of room your select (a single room, traditional room, suite, apartment, newly-renovated room, etc.). Make sure to include room reservation fees when estimating expenses. If you plan to bring your car to campus, check out how on-campus resident parking works and the associated costs, too.
  • Meal Plans – If your school offers on-campus housing, they likely offer meal plans for an on-campus dining center as well. Plans typically include a combination of meals per week for the school dining center(s) and dollars that go toward other small restaurants, cafes, or specific vending machines around campus. Some schools offer unlimited meal plans as well. Take time to consider what meal plan may work best for you. Does your school’s dining center have limited hours? If so, how does this fit with your course schedule? Does the dining center allow you to take food or drinks to-go?
  • Living Off-Campus – If you plan to live off-campus, there are many additional expenses you’ll need to consider that are included in room costs for on-campus residents. You’ll also need to pay these charges monthly instead of in one lump sum each semester. When making a list of expenses, include things like rent, heat, electricity, water, waste, and internet. Also consider any additional expenses for application fees, security deposits, and renter’s insurance. If you are not within walking distance to campus, you’ll also need to include the costs of getting there (and to a grocery store, job, etc.) - more on that to come.
  • Groceries – Even if you live on-campus and have a meal plan, you’ll probably want to have some snacks on hand for busy days or late night study sessions. If you live off-campus with roommates, you’ll also need to determine how you may split grocery costs. Will everyone buy their own food? If so, will there be shared items like milk, bread, condiments, etc. Will you rotate weeks for buying groceries? It may be a beneficial activity to look through the grocery aisles with a few go-to meals (and their ingredients) in mind next time you are at the store to get a sense of what food may end up costing you.
On-Campus Involvement
There are endless choices for ways to get involved on campus – college-recognized sports teams, club teams, intramural sports, Greek life, clubs and professional organizations related to your academic program, and a myriad of other student organizations (underwater basket-weaving club, anyone?). Whatever activities you choose to be involved in, there may be some added costs. For example, fraternities and sororities, as well as professional organizations, have dues. Intramural sports will likely ask for a participation fee. Also consider clothing orders, food if your group goes out to celebrate a win or a big event, etc.

Whether you live in a furnished campus apartment, a dorm, or off-campus, you’ll probably need to buy a few additional items to fill your room and live comfortably while completing your studies. (XL Twin bedding? A futon or chair? Lighting? A shower caddy? A laptop?) A good exercise to explore what you may need is to go through a day in your life and keep track of the items you use on a daily or weekly basis. Then ask yourself the following questions: If this is an item I already own, is it my own to take with me to school? If so, do I have a place I can store it there? (e.g. if you don’t have your own bathroom, you’ll want a shower caddy to store your shampoo, conditioner, etc.) If not, is it something you’ll still need while you’re away? (e.g. you probably won’t need a printer if you have free printing available on campus, but you may want to purchase an inexpensive chair or sofa if your apartment if it has no included seating.) If you have roommates, discuss with them who will bring larger items for your space. It’s not a good idea to split the cost on these items since it could lead to conflict at the end of the year when you both paid for the couch you adore, you don’t have any extra money to part with, and you aren’t living together the following year.

Getting There
As mentioned in the off-campus housing section, you’ll need to consider your transportation to and from school - this includes move-in day when you have all of your things making the journey with you (e.g. if you are attending school across the country, does it make more sense to buy things near campus and rent a storage unit if you have any gaps between housing, or will you make the cross-country drive with a U-Haul?) Consider campus breaks, too. If you decide to make the trek home, will you drive or fly? If you have a vehicle on-campus, consider the costs of gas, maintenance, and purchasing a service like AAA (it will give you and your parents peace of mind if it is mid-winter and your vehicle won’t start or your car breaks down on the drive home). If you aren’t taking a vehicle to campus, is there a store in walking distance? Will you need to summon an Uber or Lyft or take public transportation? If so, check for student discounts on bus passes or school-sponsored shuttle services that have nearby apartment complexes on their routes. Does your school have rental cars available? If you’re living off-campus and not within walking distance, there are some added questions you’ll need to consider, too, like how much is a parking pass for off-campus residents? Is there anyone you can carpool with? Maybe you have decided it makes the most sense to live at home or outside of the town your school is located. If that’s the case, is there a lot that commuters can park in for free? What time would you need to arrive by to snag a spot?

Everything Else
College isn’t meant to be a time that you are stuck inside studying 24-7. You’ll want some extra funds set aside for your hobbies and new experiences in your college town or abroad. Whatever this may mean to you, make sure to consider those costs as well (whether it be a new pair of athletic shoes, school apparel, or a day pass to state park).
While this is a long list of expenses, don’t let it get you down (or make you think twice about pursuing a degree). Research shows that even some college experience without a degree leads to  higher lifetime earnings than those who only have a high school diploma. Remember, you’ve got this! You’re making an investment in your future, finding your niche, and taking the first step to pursue your passion.

Contents of this blog article are intended to provide you with a general understanding of the subject matter. However, it is not intended to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice and should not be relied on as such. Information may have changed since the publication date.

Want to offset the costs of college?

Elizabeth McCormick
This article is so important! I am a sophomore in college, and I definitely did not consider many of these costs. I was diligent about forecasting my college expenses, but I found that I underestimated total COA by a lot. I wish I would have put together a more realistic estimate so that I knew what was coming. To those that are starting college next year, try to reduce your costs as a habit. Don't buy coffee every morning, try to take the bus, and reduce small expenses so that you don't have to skimp on the fun stuff (like going out to eat with friends!).
10/31/2019 5:52:20 PM

Madison Olejnicak
Reading this article really helped me to realize the impact college can have on a financial plan, especially if you are unprepared or you are not saving money yet. I never realized all the small things I need money for in college that add up after a while: paying on intramural teams, attending sporting events, and even just grabbing snacks from the cafeteria. After four years, these small fees could add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars! It is important to add up all the costs, giving yourself a little cushion to plan for the unexpected.
10/7/2019 7:39:23 AM

Logan Carroll
I'm glad I read this article because it opened my eyes to some things I haven't really thought about. Most people including myself only look at tuition, room and board, and a few other expenses. This made me realize that there is a lot more that goes into planning what college to go to. Saving money and using money wisely is a huge thing in college. It's a big financial step, but like the article said it's an investment on my future.
2/4/2019 9:36:12 PM

Tristan S Poeschel
The article made me think about what type of parttime job or work I can do in the town where my college is. I will need spending money for my activities in and outside of college. And also what I need in my dorm room and what clubs I want to be a part of that cost money. And lab costs, class costs, since I am pursuing a degree in the medical field. You have to always keep a money source going.
2/4/2019 7:55:38 PM

Anna Carow
This was so informative! Many students, myself included, focus so much on the cost of tuition that the additional expenses and financial choices that need to be made by every college student get put to the wayside. This article helped remind me of the other important financial considerations that I should take into account when making choices about higher education.
2/1/2019 4:09:30 PM

madison l heir
This blog was educational and more kids should read this, I did not know most of these expenses
1/29/2019 10:46:42 AM


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