College Expenses to Consider: The amount your child has to pay for college, sometimes called the total student budget, includes everything on the bill the college sends your child, or “billable costs”, plus other expenses, or “indirect costs.”
Billable Costs: These are fixed costs that your child is billed for by the college, such as tuition and fees, and room and board.
Indirect Costs: These are the costs that don’t show up on the college bill. They include books, supplies and travel, as well as personal expenses such as cell phone and pizza. If your child lives and eats off campus, room and board costs may be indirect costs. Your child can control indirect costs to some degree, by making smart spending choices.
Five Basic Groups of Expenses: The full cost of attending college generally has five components:
Tuition and Fees: This is the price of your child’s education. It may vary based on academic program and the number of credit hours your child takes each term. If the tuition is not the same for all full-time students, you may have to calculate it, based on the charges per credit hour for each course your child takes.
Room and Board: If your child lives and eats on campus, these expenses show up on the college bill. The charges vary depending on the room and meal plan your child chooses. If your child plans to live at home or off campus, these expenses should be estimated.
Books and Supplies: These expenses cover your child’s course materials. If the college hasn’t provided an estimate of these costs, consider using the national average, which at four-year public colleges in 2011-12 is $1,168.
Personal Expenses: The costs for things such as laundry and cell phone service fall under personal expenses. Your child should keep careful track of these as they can quickly add up. Use this to help with planning: The national average in 2011-12 for four-year public college students who live on campus is $2,066.
Transportation: Transportation is a significant expense, whether your child is commuting to campus or just occasionally returning home. If your child’s college hasn’t supplied an estimated travel budget, make your own based on how — and how often — your child plans to go back and forth for holidays. Four-year public college students who live on campus spent an average of $1,082 on transportation in 2011-12.
Get the Specifics: These cost components are usually listed in a college’s brochure or on its website. You can also use College Search to find breakdowns of costs at more than 3,800 colleges and universities.