Starting college is your time to move away from home, but the location of your dream school may have unexpected costs.
Not all campus locations are created equally. How far your dollar will stretch could depend on the cost of living at your college’s location. For example, the cost-of-living calculator on Salary.com shows that living in San Francisco, costs 93.3 percent more than living in Cedar Falls, Iowa, home to the University of Northern Iowa. That impacts everything from the price of printer paper to how expensive pizza is. An online cost-of-living calculator is a useful tool to help you compare how much different college locations will set you back.
Cost of living is especially important to consider if you plan to live off campus during college. Rentnet.com reports that the average price for a one-bedroom apartment in New York City is $2,788, while the average price for a one-bedroom apartment in Tampa is $623. That difference in rent could pay for your textbooks (and then some).
Many colleges only have enough housing to accommodate a portion of their students. Research the housing policies of schools you are interested in so that you're not surprised by the cost of having to rent an apartment for yuor second year. San Francisco State University (SFSU), for example, has limited on-campus housing options that are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. Only SFSU freshmen under the age of 20 are guaranteed a dorm room. If you don’t meet those criteria, you may be on your own.
Another cost to keep in mind while evaluating college locations is sales tax. If you attend Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where there is no state or city sales tax, you’ll never have to pay more than the sticker price. Students at the University of Chicago, however, need to pony up an extra 9 percent to cover the tax on their purchases. Nine percent may not seem like a big number, but if you spend $750 on textbooks over the course of a year in Portland, add on another $67.50 to get those same items in Chicago. Price tags don’t always show how much you’ll end up paying.
The cost of being a student is not all buying printer paper and paying rent. Between exams and term papers, you’ll probably squeeze in some fun. Take a look at how much different entertainment options will cost. Are you a movie buff? A night out watching movies and eating pizza will cost over two dollars more in Los Angeles than the same ticket in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Into tennis? New tennis balls and an orange juice after the match will set you back $7 in Boston but only $5 in Miami.
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In general, living expenses tend to be highest in California and in the Northeast. Costs of living in the South or the Midwest are usually lower. Conventional wisdom implies that cities are more expensive places to live than small towns or the country. While this often holds true, many medium- and small-sized cities have their share of bargains. According to Bankrate.com, if you attend the University of Connecticut in Stamford, Connecticut, you’ll pay an average of $1.44 for a loaf of bread. In Austin, where the University of Texas is located, a loaf of bread costs an average of $.74. Austin may be five times the size of Stamford, but living there can cost you significantly less. Don’t assume that prices will go up along with a city’s population.
Before you pack up and move, tally up the prices of things like groceries, entertainment, laundry, public transportation and sales tax of your new home. There’s more to your college expenses than tuition alone. If you know where you want to go to school, research the cost of living there as well.