Whether you’re embarking on the college search for the first time, or it has been a while since you first looked at colleges, you may not know how college pricing works. And that’s ok.
Unlike most purchases in life, the cost of college
doesn’t fall under one blanket sticker price. Rather, it’s itemized, and sometimes vague. For instance, what are the “fees” included in “tuition and fees?”
As you tour college campuses, you’ll find that you’re encouraged to peek into dorm rooms and peruse through dining halls. You may even eat in one. You’ll likely leave wondering, “How much does this part of the college experience cost?!” Campus amenities
, spacious residential halls, and fancy dining spaces seem like they would add up – and they do.
So are they included with tuition and fees? Or are they a separate entity?
Is Room and Board Covered with Tuition?
For many parents, this is the first question they have once they see those updated residence halls
with pool tables, cozy social spaces, and communal bathrooms. You may have researched the cost of this particular college, but unless you’ve done a deep dive on the financial portion of their website, you may have only seen the cost of tuition
Typically, room and board
is not included within the tuition costs. It is its own entity. That’s partly because it has nothing to do with college tuition, which covers the academic components of your education. It’s also separate because many students, throughout their college experience, may opt to live off-campus after their first year.
For students at private, four-year colleges, room and board is significantly cheaper than what they’re paying in tuition and fees. However, for students at public two-year, or even public four-year colleges
, the price of room and board can be higher, and at times significantly more so, than tuition.
In CollegeBoard’s Trends in College Pricing for 2021
, the average room and board costs for a student at a private, four-year college averaged at $13,620 per year. For a student at a two-year commuter college, the average was $9,330.
How Can I Find the Real Cost of a College?
Believe it or not, colleges are not trying to trick you into paying more for college than what you were originally told, or originally found in your research. Throughout the process, you may have an admissions officer quote you the price for each component of the school. You may also receive an email or packet in the mail that lists out the price for each portion.
Furthermore, there is one place that you will always be able to find this information: on the college’s financial aid
webpage. There, they will list the different components of a college education, along with the cost. You’ll find:
• Room and board
• Mandatory fees
You may also find estimated costs for the following:
• Books and supplies
• Student health insurance
Ten years ago, the Higher Education Act was amended to require colleges to post a Net Price Calculator
on their website. A Net Price Calculator allows a family to see an estimate of the cost of that particular college. To begin, families are asked about income, the student’s GPA, and a few other questions. The Net Price Calculator then identifies how much the student may receive in merit or institutional scholarships, how much the family will have to contribute, as well as financial suggestions for how to pay the remaining balance.
A Net Price Calculator will enable you to find the true cost for each college you’re considering. Make sure you go through the process on each college’s site so that you can compare costs
accurately. One school’s net price may look drastically different from another.
Can Scholarships Cover Room and Board?
The holy grail of paying for college is a full-ride scholarship. This type of scholarship covers everything: tuition, fees, books, and room and board. These scholarships are typically awarded by colleges, but students can also find full ride scholarships from providers, like QuestBridge College Match
and the Department of Defense SMART Scholarship Program
Merit scholarships for college
usually only cover tuition and fees. However, there may be a few institutional scholarships available for students to apply to that cover the cost of room and board.
Outside scholarships vary on a case-by-case basis. Some of them will articulate that they can only be used to cover tuition and fees. Others may not specify, so you need to ask if the scholarship monies can be used to cover room and board. Finally, you may have to consider living on campus
all four years if you intend to use scholarships to cover that cost.
Regardless, it’s a great idea to apply for scholarships to cover room and board. Be sure to update your Fastweb profile
to ensure that you’re being matched to as many scholarships as possible and that you’re setting a goal of applying to two to three scholarships per week. Remember, the more you apply to, the better your chances of actually winning.