College Planning

By Tobias Abramenko - How to financially plan for college and consider all the 'hidden expenses'

Financing College

When it comes to paying for college first look for money you won’t have to pay back (scholarships and grants). Then explore federal student loans. Finally, consider a responsible private student loan to cover the rest.

Housing Expenses

Most colleges require students to live on campus their first year, which means the college charges "room and board" fees. After that, many students choose to live nearby in private housing, which means rent and utilities are a separate, but significant, expense. Don't forget you will be responsible for all utilities, furniture, and appliances when living in private housing.

Food Expenses

Meal plans are also offered by colleges. On average, these cost around $4,500 per year, but there are many different options that range in how much they offer.

Textbook Expenses

The College Board estimates that the average student spends between $1,000 and $2,000 per academic year on textbooks. Many courses are transitioning their content to be more online, which could decrease that number, but the cost of a laptop is necessary to budget for.

Commute Expenses

If you are not able to live on or near campus, commuting to college can be quite a hassle. Make sure to budget for the cost of your time and transportation (gas and maintenance if you are driving your own car). Also, consider the expenses of traveling back home. Especially for those planning to attend college great distances from their hometown, visiting home can mean expensive plane tickets.

Opportunity Costs

One of the major factors in deciding whether a college education is worth it, is to look at what else you could be doing with your time. If you worked 9-5 at a job that paid $15/hr that would give you about $43,000 that you could not earn while you are at college.


There are many costs of college that are easy to overlook because they are not included in tuition. College should be viewed as an investment, with a promise of higher future earnings. Make sure that that investment is still worth it, even with the costs of housing, food, commute, and all opportunity costs. It is also worth looking at all the options for financing through grants, loans, and scholarships.

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Next Story: Types of Federal Student Aid

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