Study up: paying for college involves more than tuition

A four-year college education doesn’t come cheap. According to the College Board, average annual tuition and fees in 2018-19 for an in-state public college reached $10,230, an out-of-state public university was $26,290 and a private school was $35,830. That’s right, each year. Ouch.

Not to put a damper on your higher education plans, but those costs are not the total cost of attendance. A host of other expenses await, but with some research and planning before the first day of class, you can determine the funds you’ll need and how to budget for them to get your college career off to a great start.

Room and board

Next to tuition, room and board will be your biggest expense. Estimates range from $10,000 to $12,000 a year or more, but the cost will depend on the school or the community in which you live. On-campus housing offers convenience, from proximity to classes to dining halls for fueling up. Sharing off-campus housing, like an apartment, house or condo, with roommates could save some cash, but remember you’ll be preparing your own food and on the hook for utilities.

Textbooks and fees

Expect to pay at least $1,000 on textbooks each year. University bookstores will often offer new and used books, and be sure to check online retailers for bargains, too. even offers an option to rent. If you’ll never crack open that microeconomics book once the final is over, try selling it to the local bookstore or online to recoup some costs. In addition to books, some classes – particularly in the sciences — may require additional fees for labs or other equipment.

Supplies and tech

A laptop is a must-have, so if you haven’t already invested in a trusty model, do some research on the best machines in your price range. And, don’t forget the other supplies you’ll need to hit the books — from highlighters and sticky notes to old fashioned pen and paper and a trusty backpack to haul it all.

Personal expenses

Make room in the budget for your lifeline: your smartphone. Don’t forget other essentials that get you through each day, from towels, bed linens and toiletries to clothing, shoes and cosmetics. With dorm living, you might want a mini fridge or microwave to help supplement the mystery casseroles in the cafeteria. For living off-campus, build in some extra funds for basic furnishings and household items. Plus, if you’re attending a college far from home, but plan to return in the summers, weigh the costs of shipping belongings back and forth versus storing them near campus.


If you’re living off campus, factor costs to get to and from class, whether it’s a bus pass or the expenses associated with your car (gas, insurance, maintenance and parking). Also, if you plan to head home on weekends or during the breaks, consider how much you’ll need to afford your ticket home, whether by bus, train or plane.

School and activity fees

Universities may assess a variety of school and activity fees, and they may or may not be included alongside tuition costs. Fees may include use of technology, recreation facilities, student unions and health centers, to name a few, or other incidental fees. Sporting events may also require purchased tickets, albeit at a reduced rate.

Greek dues and social fees

Joining a fraternity or sorority offers an opportunity to make connections with potential to last a lifetime. But this ready-made social circle comes at a price. In addition to monthly dues, you’ll likely find yourself spending more to participate in parties, events and getaways that may require new outfits or even outdoor or recreational gear.


Colleges offer multiple opportunities to experience other cultures, offering various study abroad programs geared to students of all interests. If traveling overseas for a period of study is of interest, consider not only the cost of the program – tuition, room and board – but the cost to get there and back.

Having Fun!

Every college student needs a break from the books at some point. Whether it’s midnight movie showings, big games, dining out or just enjoying the local nightlife, these extras help create a memorable college experience. Tack some extra funds onto the budget for an occasional splurge to celebrate acing midterms or achieving perfect attendance at an 8 a.m. class.

Attending a four-year college is a big investment in your future. While costs do add up, planning ahead and knowing what to expect can help lessen the blow. For more assistance on budgeting for college and financial aid information, check out