What Are the Costs of Living on a College Campus?


Looking at tuition rates is scary enough for parents with a child heading off to college. But there’s another expense that makes the prospect of paying for college, even more, intimidating: campus life. The costs of living on a college campus can be staggering, with average prices for room and board exceeding $10,000 per year at public colleges and universities. Additional fees and costs can make that number increase even further, adding a significant expense to the college experience.

Find out how much it costs to live on a college campus, including tips for reducing expenses and whether student loans may help cover these costs.

Room and Board

When considering where to attend school, many students consider the cost of college and the majors provided but often forget to take a look at the location. Room and board can be greatly affected by your school’s location. For instance, if a school is located in New York City the housing cost will be higher than the room and board of a school located in Buffalo. Keep in mind, the location of the school you want to attend when determining if you should attend that school or not. Make sure to research housing options that offer affordable living.

When choosing which school to go to, be mindful of private schools since they are  usually more expensive than public schools. Private schools tend to have the same tuition cost for in-state and out-of-state students, whereas public schools have different tuition prices for out-of-state students. These students often pay more than in-state students that attend public schools. Living on-campus versus living off-campus can also affect your cost of attendance. If you are deciding on whether or not to live on-campus or off-campus take a look at the following charts.

The following charts break down the cost of attendance for private schools depending on whether you are living on-campus or off-campus.

Below, you will find the cost of attendance comparison between choosing to live on-campus versus living off-campus for public schools.                                                                                                     

The main factor in the cost of living on a college campus is the total room and board. This is the cost of covering lodging and food for one academic year. According to CollegeBoard, average room and board fees total $10,440 at public schools and $11,890 at private schools.

Lodging includes the cost of living in a dormitory or another type of on-campus housing. For example, some upperclassmen are able to secure housing in on-campus apartments, but freshmen students are typically required to live in dormitories if they want to reside on campus.

Generally, the cost of housing is set for each academic yet. When it comes to food, however, there are multiple options available in the form of meal plans. Most students are required to select and pay for a meal plan if they live in on-campus dorms. These plans cover meals consumed in approved on-campus cafeterias and eateries.

Parents and children should work together to figure out which meal plan is best suited to the student’s needs. Most meal plans are based on the number of visits to the cafeteria, a fixed dollar amount, or some combination of the two. Will your student want to eat every meal at the cafeteria? Are there issues like an allergy or restricted diet that will limit the amount of on-campus food your child will eat? Small things like eating breakfast in the dorm room every morning instead of going to the cafeteria can reduce costs if you adjust the meal plan accordingly.

Additionally, keep in mind which dates will be covered by room and board costs. For example, if your child won’t be living at home over the summer, there will be an extra expense for staying in the dorms or living off-campus. Be sure to consider holidays and school breaks, as well; if the dorms close during these periods, students need funds for temporary housing or traveling home for the holidays.

Living Expenses

While the room and board cost is the main figure you’ll consider when totaling up the on-campus living total, plenty of other expenses will come up during the academic year. If it’s your student’s first year away from home, be prepared to shell out at least several hundred dollars simply to equip their room.

Students need to bring along sheets, pillows, blankets, toiletries, towels, a desk lamp, a laundry hamper, and all sorts of other odds and ends for their on-campus housing. Students usually coordinate with a roommate to discuss who will bring larger items, like a microwave, a mini-refrigerator, a TV, a DVD player, or a futon.

Don’t forget about school supplies, too. In addition to the essentials they’ve always needed, like a backpack, notebooks, pens, and pencils, just about every college student today uses a laptop for their school work. Your student may also want to use a tablet, a printer, and other electronics while living on campus. Of course, college textbooks are notoriously expensive, as well, though you may be able to save by buying used or electronic versions online.

Factor these costs in if your student will be living on campus. One upside is that costs usually diminish after freshman year due to the expense of setting up a dorm room and getting your child the things they need to live on their own for the first time.

Miscellaneous Expenses

Besides necessary living expenses like dorm room essentials and school supplies, there are a number of other expenses your child will incur while living on campus.

Most students simply bring along their wardrobe from home, but you’ll have additional costs if your child is moving to a colder climate than where you currently live. Purchases like winter coats, snow boots, gloves, hats, sweaters, and warm socks add up quickly.

If a student chooses to attend a college that is far from home, travel expenses may be necessary for occasional trips back home.

Parents may want to consider social expenses, as well. Does your child need to pay dues to join an on-campus club? What about going out for pizza or a movie with friends once a week? You may want to set a budget for additional expenses that your child can use for these occasions.

College Fees

In some cases, colleges add fees for living on campus that drive the cost even higher. These costs can come as a surprise to many parents, so be sure to read through all the details when looking at on-campus living costs. Some examples of common college fees include:

  • Activity fees.
  • Parking fees.
  • Health fees.
  • Technology fees.
  • Enrollment fees.

Your child’s college or university may charge for these fees separately, or they may be included within the figure provided for “tuition and fees.”

Loans to Cover On-Campus Living Expenses

While the cost of living on campus may be higher than you expected, the good news is that the amount of aid a student receives is generally calculated with this cost in mind. Called “cost of attendance,” or just COA for short, this total cost is taken into account when deciding the loan amount a student should be offered. The cost of attendance includes tuition and fees, the cost of room and board, and other expenses, such as textbooks, school supplies, and transportation.

Because these costs are taken into consideration, parents may find that their child receives enough financial aid to help cover the expense of living on campus. However, it’s still important to compare costs between different schools (or between living on or off campus) when making decisions about the upcoming academic year.