How Much Does College Cost?

The average cost of college in the US is $36,436 per year. The said amount includes tuition, fees, room and board and others.

An in-state undergraduate at a public institution spends an average of $26,027 per year. An undergraduate at a private non-profit college institution and lives on campus, meanwhile, spends around $55,840 per year.

On average, college cost has increased by 2% annually over the past 10 years.

As such, it’s important to consider the cost of attendance (COA) to avoid being one of the 38% of undergraduate students who drop out yearly due to financial issues.

Whether you are applying to an Ivy League school such as Harvard University or a public institution such as the University of California, Berkeley, read on.

Net Price vs. College Sticker Price

Net price is the real cost of college that most degree-seeking students pay after financial aid and scholarships.

Sticker price, on the other hand, is the published cost of college that a lot of undergraduates rarely pay out-of-pocket.

When determining how much it will cost you to attend college, don’t just look at the amount on the brochure.

The cost of college can vary from school to school.

Similarly, it can also vary from one undergraduate student to the next.

So, in other words, you should consider circumstances exclusive to you to have an idea of how much you will have to spend.

Something that can differ among undergraduates is their financial aid and scholarship offers.

Because it depends on a student’s financial situation and oftentimes academic performance, too, colleges and universities do not factor in federal, state and institutional aid and scholarship programs in publishing their sticker price.

That is why the sticker price is the same for all freshmen applicants to a particular college.

It’s when financial awards from the US government, postsecondary institution and even a third-party scholarship provider are factored in that the out-of-pocket cost of college emerges, or what’s referred to as the net price.

Other than how much you will pay for your pursuit of a bachelor’s degree after incorporating financial aid and scholarships into the equation also depends on certain factors that can vary from undergraduate to undergraduate.

The following are other factors that can also impact the net price of your college education:

  • Institution type
  • Program type
  • Residency status
  • Cost of living

Cost of Attendance

Cost of attendance refers to the average cost of attending a particular college for a year. The amount includes everything from tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies to miscellaneous expenses.

Postsecondary institutions use the COA to determine how much financial aid an undergraduate is eligible for.

Of course, used together with the COA are the pieces of information a college student provides on his or her FAFSA, particularly the expected family contribution (EFC), which is the primary index used for financial aid computation.

Every college and university in the US is required by the government to provide students with a COA to allow them to determine how much attending might mean to their overall budget.

However, according to CNN, up to 91% of postsecondary institutions do not provide an accurate cost.

To know how much it will cost you to attend a college, in most instances, all you have to do is pay its website a visit.

A school can be as sparse or as detailed as it wants when it comes to providing prospective applicants an estimation of how much it would cost them to attend as full-time freshmen students.

The University of New Mexico, for instance, divides the last academic year expenses into the direct and indirect costs:

Direct Costs
Tuition and fees$11,126$34,044
Housing and food$11,884$11,884
Indirect Costs
Books and supplies$1,660$1,660

Some schools have separate entries for tuition and fees, thus allowing budget-conscious students who are interested in attending a more detailed picture of the COA.

Besides visiting the institution’s website, you may also access its common data set (CDS).

Section G is where you will find the COA — section G1 specifies tuition, including in-state and out-of-state tuition for public colleges, as well as student fees and room and board, while section G5 specifies books and supplies and other expenses.

By the way, section G0 provides a link to the institution’s net price calculator.

College Tuition and Fees

Tuition and fees are the costs charged by an institution of higher education to teach students.

The amount can vary from school to school and from student to student, depending on factors such as the type of institution, academic program and whether the undergraduate is an in-state or out-of-state student.

The average tuition cost at any American college or university is $19,806.

The said amount makes up around 54% of the overall cost of college.

According to Vox, the tuition the students pay makes up less than 50% of the total annual revenue of some private institutions — public colleges, meanwhile get much of their money from the state.

In-State Tuition

In-state tuition is the amount of tuition that students pay to attend a public college or university in their state residence.

Compared to out-of-state tuition, in-state tuition is lower, sometimes by as much as two or three times.

It’s no secret that attending a public institution is the cheaper way to get a college degree.

Based on the figures provided earlier, the difference between in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition, on average, amounts to $17,413.

However, there is a way to make an undergraduate degree from a public school even easier on the pocket, and it’s none other than by going to an in-state institution.

Simply put, an in-state institution is a public college or university in the state where you are a resident of.

In-state schools charge local residents less than non-residents because they come from families that pay tax dollars to the state, some of which end up being used to fund public institutions in the state.

Public colleges charge in-state students differently tuition-wise.

For instance, Vermont is the state with the highest average in-state tuition among public four-year institutions: $16,604.

Florida, on the other hand, is the state with the lowest average in-state tuition among public four-year institutions: $4,443.

Out-of-State Tuition

Out-of-state tuition is the amount of tuition that college students pay to attend a public institution outside of their state residence. At times, out-of-state tuition can be two to three times higher than in-state tuition.

Despite having to pay higher tuition, many students still choose to attend out-of-state schools.

Going to an out-of-state college or university is usually done by students who are seeking specialized programs that none of the postsecondary institutions in their own states are offering.

Some, on the other hand, want to find new people and friends as well as new communities and opportunities.

We earlier mentioned Vermont and Florida as the states with the highest and lowest in-state tuition costs, respectively. Well, these states also have the highest and lowest out-of-state tuition.

Vermont’s highest average out-of-state tuition among public institutions amounts to $39,947, while Florida’s lowest average out-of-state tuition amounts to $18,456.

International Student Tuition

Colleges and universities in the US charge international students differently, usually requiring them to pay higher tuition.

At most public institutions, it’s not uncommon for international students to pay $25,000 to $35,000 in tuition per year.

At some private schools, meanwhile, they usually pay anywhere from $50,000 to $55,000 in tuition per year.

International students are charged more as it’s an opportunity for an institution to generate more income.

Room and Board

The cost of housing and food a college provides its students falls under room and board.

The average cost of room and board at four-year institutions in the US can range anywhere from more than $8,500 to over $13,000 per year, depending on the type of college.

Also contributing factors include the college’s location and whether the student lives on- or off-campus.

Here are the average of room and board costs per year at various college types:

  • Public four-year in-state institution on-campus: $11,520
  • Public four-year out-of-state institution off-campus: $11,365
  • Private non-profit four-year institution on-campus: $32,895
  • Private non-profit four-year institution off-campus: $11,269
  • Private for-profit four-year institution on-campus: $32,895
  • Private for-profit four-year institution off-campus: $8,543

Students who wish or need to move out of their homes as they complete their respective undergraduate programs have two options when it comes to accommodation:

  • On-campus housing
  • Off-campus housing

Generally speaking, on-campus housing costs more than off-campus housing. As a matter of fact, in some instances, students who live on-campus have to pay over $10,000 or more per year than their peers who live off-campus.

But it’s important to keep in mind that additional running costs of residing off-campus such as water, electricity, internet, cable, food and supplies as well as, in most cases, furnishings and fixtures can cause the expenses to quickly add up.

Also, due to the need to take care of a lot of things, off-campus living requires additional responsibility on your part.

On-Campus Housing

On-campus housing is housing owned by the college or university.

They can come in the form of residence halls, which usually come in single, double and triple rooms, as well as apartments.

According to West Texas A&M University, the following are some of the benefits that undergraduate students can enjoy for living on-campus:

  • Better academic outcomes
  • Increase involvement with campus organizations
  • More meaningful engagements and connections with other students
  • Reduction of transportation/commute costs
  • A safer environment

Residing on-campus also grants students access to certain college services and resources, including a resident assistant (RA) who can help them with all kinds of housing-related matters.

Off-Campus Housing

Off-campus housing is housing such as a private dorm, commercial apartment or cooperative.

As the name suggests, it’s a type of housing for college students that’s outside of the school grounds and not owned by the institution, although some may be affiliated with the university.

Whether the housing is near or far from the campus doesn’t matter — it’s still regarded as off-campus housing.

Depending on where the housing is located, an off-campus student may have to walk, drive a car, take a public utility vehicle or ride the school’s shuttle service to get to and from school.

Before we proceed to the next topic, let’s answer this college housing-related question…

Are Freshmen Students Required to Live On-Campus?

Most colleges and universities require freshmen students to live on campus. As a matter of fact, some of them require undergraduates to do so until their sophomore year of college.

The following are some postsecondary institutions that require all first-year students to live on campus:

  • Boston University
  • Brandeis University
  • California Polytechnic State University
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Colorado State University
  • Columbia University
  • Eastern Michigan University
  • Harvard University
  • Jacksonville State University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Oregon State University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Southern Illinois University
  • Stanford University
  • Truman State University
  • University of Alabama
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Southern Mississippi
  • Western Oregon University

Books and Supplies

Books and supplies are some of the most important expenses among undergraduate students for they are necessary for academic success and, often, completion of their programs.

Certain degree programs require more expensive textbooks and school supplies than others. As a result, how much money students will have to spend on books and supplies per year can vary tremendously.

A student who is majoring in visual arts, for instance, may need to shell out more money on supplies, in particular art supplies, than, say, a business or psychology major.

The following are the average book and supplies costs annually per type of institution:

  • Public four-year institution: $1,216
  • Private non-profit four-year institution: $1,226
  • Private for-profit four-year institution: $1,416

Other than the institution you are attending and the program you are enrolled in, your yearly book and supplies cost can also vary depending on the choices or strategies you make.

For instance, $105.37 is the current average cost of a college textbook.

When buying one, you have the option to go for something brand new available at the nearest bookstore or a used one sold on the internet.

Or you may also rent the textbook or get your hands on an electronic copy, if available.

Other College Expenses

While some colleges and universities that provide the COA include other costs in the breakdown of various expenses, others aim to be more specific by including transportation, personal care and miscellaneous ones.

Either way, other things that an undergraduate student has to pay out-of-pocket usually make up second to the smallest fraction of the overall cost of attending college for one year, with books and supplies typically being the smallest.

It’s not uncommon for some institutions to completely leave out additional expenses in the COA.

For instance, the most recent CDS of Brown University does not specify any transportation estimation.

On the other hand, the latest CDS reports of both Harvard and MIT simply indicate that transportation costs vary.

Meanwhile, Stanford University’s CDS says that transportation costs for commuters amount to $1,026 per year.

The following are some other expenses a student usually has to factor in when computing the COA:

  • Entertainment
  • Cellular service
  • Clothing
  • Laundry
  • Dry cleaning
  • Toiletries
  • Books for leisure
  • Furnishing

Other expenses round out the cost of attending college for a year, and how much you will have to spend on them depends on factors such as the institution you are attending, your housing arrangement, your lifestyle and the local economy.

Generally speaking, they can range anywhere from $3,304 to $4,551 per year.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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