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National Application Center :: pay for college

Plan, explore, and apply to college using these great tools.
Cost of Attendance

Checklist for Gathering College Cost Information

Annual/Academic Year Tuition

While many colleges charge a set tuition fee for an academic year, other colleges and universities do not: they charge tuition costs per course or per credit hour. Just determine what number of credit hours constitute a typical academic year at the institution, and multiply accordingly.

Room and Board Costs

Some colleges will provide a set, combined, cost for room and board.

Other colleges have varied meal plans, with options to choose more or fewer meals on campus. Freshman do not always have options beyond the standard meal plan, so be sure to check so you'll have an accurate estimate.

As for board, some colleges charge costs that vary by the type of room. Since you won't know in advance exactly what type of room you will get, use the college's average boarding cost for estimation purposes.

At public school campuses, where tuition may be the same across the system, different room and board costs may apply--be sure to check costs for the campus where you intend to enroll.

If you're considering living off campus, look into rental costs in the area around the campus; these can vary widely from school to school. Since off-campus rental costs vary greatly, you may not be able to save money compared to living on campus. But be aware that some colleges require first year and even upperclass students to live on campus.

Student Activity Fee

If an activity fee is assessed, it is generally listed as a billable cost and is the same for every student. Such fees help underwrite student organizations and campus cultural and athletic events.

Books and Supplies

Most colleges will provide you with an estimate of these costs, based on averages. But remember, these will only be averages! Be sure to take into account programs that may have higher than average costs for books and materials--like art or architecture. If cost is a concern, plan to buy the used books that are readily available on most campuses or through the Internet.

Personal Expenses

Colleges can provide an estimate of personal expenses, but the true cost is highly dependent on you. Will you take advantage of free events on campus and stick with the meal plan you've paid for? Or are you more likely to go to expensive events and eat out every night?

Special Fees (lab fees, physical education fees, music fees, health fees, etc.)

Colleges are offering more and more exciting options for students, but some of them come at an additional cost. Be sure to find out if special physical education classes like kayaking or weight lifting carry additional fees, or if music practice or lessons carry such fees.


Costs here can vary dramatically. Will you commute to campus? If so, figure the costs of gas, insurance, parking, car depreciation, and the like. Will you go back and forth only once, or more often, each year? By train, plane, or automobile? Most colleges can provide you with their estimated travel budget for students from your area; be sure to find out how many round trips are figured into the estimate.

Other Costs (international study, off-campus programs, health insurance, fraternities/sororities)

While it's difficult to predict just what special activities or programs you will participate in, it's a good idea to get a sense of what additional costs might be involved.

  • Some overseas study programs actually cost less than a year at the home college--but many do not. You'll also want to find out if financial aid is transportable for students on international programs.
  • On many campuses, student health insurance plans are mandatory--find out how much they cost.
  • If your college choices include campuses with a fraternity/sorority system, try to get an estimate of what additional costs might be associated with participation.
  • You may also want to find out if a personal computer will be required for your major, and if you will need to own one or can use one in a campus computer lab. It is possible to use a government-subsidized student loan to purchase a personal computer; contact the college's financial aid office for more information about this.

Cost Projections

In talking with a member of the admission or aid staff about the percentage by which costs have increased at the college over the past five years, you should be able to get an idea of how costs might rise during the time you will be in attendance. Find out if financial aid resources are expected to increase at the same rate.