College can be expensive, but you can work to reduce your cost of college. The Cost of Attendance (COA) is calculated by schools (as dictated by Congress) to estimate the total cost of attending for one year. It includes tuition and housing plus books, supplies, transportation, loan fees, dependent care (if applicable), computer/laptop, and study abroad programs. But your True Cost of College may be higher/lower depending on the choices you make. Here are some examples of how you can affect your COA.
Tuition & Fees
⇓ Reduce: Enter college with Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), dual enrollment, credit by examination, or transfer credits from community college. Max your ACT or SAT score and scholarships.
⇑ Raise: Take remedial classes, switch majors late or often, or retake classes.
Housing & Meals (Room & Board)
⇓ Reduce: Buy bulk snacks. Take advantage of student discounts and promotions. Choose the regular room rather than the poolside apartment.
⇑ Raise: Eat out often, and make frequent coffee stops or vending machine purchases.
Books & Supplies
⇓ Reduce: Buy an inexpensive personal printer (or share with your roommate!) to save on campus printing charges. Check for student deals on computers and other school supplies. Rent or buy used textbooks. Compare Chegg or Amazon pricing to your campus bookstore’s, and use low-price match guarantees. Sell back books you don’t want to keep after the semester—the longer you wait, the less resale value they’ll have.
⇑ Raise: Buy fancy supplies, extra electronics — NEW everything.
Travel & Transportation
⇓ Reduce: Engage on-campus, and work to reduce travel expenses. Grocery delivery services could be an option. Consider train or bus travel instead of air.
⇑ Raise: Make frequent trips home, especially if by air.
Miscellaneous (Personal Expenses)
⇓ Reduce: Determine a budget, and stay within it. Don’t overuse credit options. Take advantage of FREE activities, often promoted by colleges to engage students, and discounted student pricing where available.
⇑ Raise: Buy hip new clothing, furniture, entertainment, and travel.
⇓ Reduce: Minimize student loans and use borrow only up to the maximum $5,500 federal student loan (no Parent Plus loans). If your COA less your scholarships and contributed earnings means borrowing more, find a less expensive college. Remember: college should create financial freedom not indebtedness.
⇑ Raise: Some college loans charge origination fees which are added as a percentage to the total loan amount. Private loan fees are generally higher than federal student loans. Be sure to include these fees in your calculations as they will affect your available funds.
⇓ Reduce: Take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit (family income below $160,000/year) and save $2,500/year.
⇑ Raise: Scholarship and grant aid are considered income to the student so consult your financial advisor NOW for strategies to minimize your student’s tax liability.
- The College Scoreboard from the U.S. Department of Education allows families to compare colleges and access financial aid information and includes career exploration and apprenticeships also.
- Every school has its own online Net Price Calculator, which can be tough to find on individual college websites. The U.S. Department of Education has a search tool to help.
- TuitionFit allows students and families to share the individual college offers they receive. They organize and anonymously display that data so that we can all compare real-time college prices.
- The ACT College/University Cost Comparison Worksheet allows you to enter your estimates of expenses, financial aid, and loans to compare schools side-by-side.