SPF » Budgeting » 7 Important college expenses you need to budget for

7 Important college expenses you need to budget for

A college education is not for the faint of heart. The sticker price of a 4-year college education in a private school is on average $53,949 a year, well over 200 thousand dollars.

Here is a list of college expenses you need to budget for attending college.

  • Tuition
  • Room and Board
  • Textbooks
  • School Supplies (incl. Laptop, Phone, and Internet)
  • School and Activity Fees
  • Transportation
  • Personal Expenses

College Expenses

Here is a closer look at the various expenses you must pay to the college when attending an institution of higher education.


Tuitions for classes can vary from $10,000 for a public in-state school to $40,000 or more at a private college per year. Many schools have a point system, which lets you pay this tuition, based on how many classes you take.

Some of the expensive private schools’ have extensive financial aid options. So your expense may vary, based on your application and what financial aid you are granted. Many factors can give you a financial break, such as scholarly merit, being the right athlete, having the right ethnic heritage, or family situation. However, beware that any financial aid in form of loans still needs to be paid back with interest. You can compare the list prices of colleges on the College Scorecard, a website managed by the Department of Education.

Photo by Keira Burton from Pexels

Room and Board

Often the second largest expense is room and board. You need to live somewhere and many colleges require freshmen to live on campus. Housing, meals at the cafeteria, food, some personal hygiene as well as hanging out with your fellow students can be between $9,000 and $15,000 a year.

Besides the recurring costs, you need to budget some expenses for personal items, such as bedsheets, lamps, and small appliances such as a personal coffee maker or fan. These are mostly one-time expenses and you can bring items from home.

School and Activity fees

Often there are extra fees to use some of the amenities of the campus. There may be student activity fees to access the gym and the pool or certain student parties. Often these are mandatory fees. You can calculate up to 500 dollars per semester.

Also, consider if you plan to participate in greek life on campus. These societies have their own dues, to cover costs of events and marketing expenses.


College textbooks are big business. As a student, you need to buy what is required. Professors will give homework based on the textbook lessons.

You may save some money buying used or renting the books. However, you can budget $500 to $1,000 per semester.

Schools Supplies

Besides textbooks, you will need school supplies. From a backpack to notebooks and folders you will spend a few hundred dollars every semester. Modern students also need electronics, such as calculators, laptops, and maybe even a phone to snap copies of charts and homework. These items should last the full 4-year term if you can purchase those at the beginning. However they have a shelf life, so if you bring your high school supplies, calculate that you may have to replace them at a later time.

Some study subjects might need special equipment, such as safety goggles or labcoats.

Living Expenses

Besides the tuition and fees, there is more on a proper list of college expenses.


You may not need a car when living on campus. Getting around with a bike is cheap and almost cost-free. If you live off-campus you need to decide if you can use a bicycle, public transportation, or a car. Living at home may also have challenges in transportation costs.

If you don’t live at home, you may want to travel home a couple of times a year. Depending on how far home is, gas or the airfare might add up to a significant amount.

Personal Expenses

The biggest part of personal expenses is clothes. You will need some new items during college, even if it is just jeans and t-shirts. But you might need a new coat or new shoes to fend off the elements. Also, consider make-up or toiletries as an expense that can add up.

We are all individuals and have different needs. If you wear glasses, you may need a new set while in college. Further, you may need to buy medicine or see a doctor. Make sure, how you purchase medical insurance coverage. You may be able to stay with your parents or even on your spouse’s plan. There are often college-sponsored plans that are affordable, but make sure you like the coverage.

4 years or 5 years

While everyone thinks a college education is 4 years, only 39% of students finish actually on time. You should make a contingency plan for the 5th year at school. Typically tuitions, are per credit course, but room and board, as well as living expenses, are per semester, or monthly. Even taking extra courses, for example for a dual major, can cost you extra.

Frequently asked Questions

What is the biggest cost of college?

For most college students, the biggest cost is course tuition. However, tuition depends heavily on whether the school is public or private and you are an in-state or out-of-state student. Further, tuition can be offset by financial aid in form of grants.

Be wary of financial aid in form of loans. You will accumulate that debt and have to pay it back later, together with interest. Validate your college education by increasing your earnings prospects accordingly. Even then, starting your career with a large sum of debt is not desirable.

What are ways to pay for college?

Here are the most common ways to pay for money in the order of desirability:

  1. Grant
  2. Private Scholarship
  3. Work-Study job
  4. (Part-time) job
  5. Loan

The best way to pay for college is through a grant of the college or some grant state or federal government. It is money you receive and don’t have to pay back. Similarly, you won’t have to pay back private scholarships. However, you will need to find the scholarship programs, apply and make sure you keep the conditions of eligibility.

You can work a job while studying. However, that takes time away from studying. Therefore it is most desirable to find a work-study job that offers you some experience in your field of study. Some work-study jobs are just clerical things that need doing in college, but usually, the pay is above average and they are close by. Make sure your work hours allow you to attend class and to have time to study.

Your last resort is student loans. If you plan on taking out more than a couple of ten thousand, make sure your field of study will lead to jobs with increased income. Check the salaries for an entry-level position in the field. You will have to pay back your student loans as soon as possible.

A college education is an expensive investment. You better hone your budgeting skills to be a successful student of money management. Consider budgeting a mandatory minor you want to graduate in before your first day on campus.

How much does 1 year of college cost?

Attending a 4-year state college with in-state subsidy costs on average $25,900 in 2021. This includes tuition and living expenses. This rises to an average cost of $43,700 if you are an out-of-state student.

Private colleges cost $54,000 on average in 2021. Many private colleges are much more expensive than that.

Summary college expense list

  • Tuition and student fees
  • Room and board
  • Textbooks and school supplies
  • Transportation
  • Personal Allowance

Tuition and fees vary widely between colleges and there are many ways to lower them, from being an in-state student at a public college to having a full scholarship or grant at an ivy league institution.

It is important to plan how college fits into your budget.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *