Understanding College Costs

Understanding College Costs

Families frequently refer to the cost of college as one of the biggest obstacles to going to college. One reason they may feel this way is that they do not understand what is included in the cost and what they may actually have to pay. The cost of college can be broken down into the following five categories:

Tuition & Fees

What the college actually charges to attend and enroll in classes. Public universities, like The University of Arizona, typically charge different amounts based on whether you are an in-state or out-of-state student. Private universities, like Stanford, usually charge all students the same amount.

Room & Board

Housing and food.  This can vary greatly depending on whether or not you decide to live at home, on campus, or rent your own apartment.

Books & Supplies

Unlike high school, in college students must buy their own textbooks. The college will give you an estimate, but there are things you can do to reduce that amount.


Whether you live on campus or not you will need to travel around town for a variety of reasons like grocery shopping, meeting friends, volunteering, for a job or even for class projects. 


Everyone has miscellaneous expenses in their budget. For some, it is money to go to the movies, eat out, buy clothes, or any number of other things. 

Necessities vs. Luxuries

Of the above college costs only two are required to go to college: Tuition/Fees and Room/Board. The others are all a part of living the life you want to live while you are attending college. These shouldn’t be considered extra costs since they are things that you and your family already pay for. Additionally, there are strategies that you can use to reduce some of these costs: buying used books, limiting how often you go out to eat, using the bus, or riding a bike. The bottom line, the price tag you see is not always the price you pay. Research your college of choice and find out what the real costs are and then research the different types of financial aid that are available.