What college costs should I consider outside of the COA?

costs outside of the coaThe COA (Cost of Attendance) is the figure people generally prepare for when they plan out their college finances. However, there are many additional costs of college that aren’t included in the COA: read on to learn more about these hidden costs.

Travel and automobile expenses

Oftentimes, colleges far away from your home will provide an allowance for travel and include it in the student budget or cost of attendance. If your college does not and if you have been offered financial aid, you may want to try to have the college add a travel allowance as a part of the COA. Doing so will increase your demonstrated need, and thus travel costs could be covered by additional financial aid. If the aid piece isn’t relevant, calculate what travel to and from college will cost and add that to your personal expenses.

Check with airlines to see if they have any special rates for students attending colleges near a destination served by that airline. Call the college and ask about any student discounts on travel.

If you’re planning on having a car at school, consider how it will increase your costs, even when you are not using it. Many schools don’t let freshmen keep cars on campus anyway, and if you go to school in an urban area, there is little use for one. If you do take a car, take advantage of your school’s ride share program on trips home and back to school in order to save on gas.

Books and supplies

Many colleges include the cost of books (not supplies) as a part of their COA, and thus it’s included in a financial aid package. If a college does not include books in the COA, they can be a significant extra expense.

Supplies are an entirely different matter. This can be a problem with students in certain specialties and in all sorts of performing arts programs that sometimes require lots of supplies. Find out before college not after you get there.

Spending money

Generally, $1,500 to $3,000 will keep you safe for the year, so get a job in the summer, and even during long vacations to cover your expenses. This is one of the few college expenses over which you have complete control, so use your good judgment on this one.

When you go out to eat, always split the bill or have each person pay for what they ordered. Ordering water instead of a Coke can save you as much as $3.50 per meal – it adds up. When money meets alcohol, or any other substance, you have to be very careful. Obviously, that’s all illegal, but we won’t pretend to be ignorant of the college experience. If it’s your style, partying can be fun,but going out Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night every week will take its toll on your wallet, among other things. With your newfound college freedom comes a larger responsibility for your own actions: learning how to budget personal expenses is one of those responsibilities.

Unsubsidized loans

One cost that most never consider is the cost of unsubsidized student loans. These loans can be deferred while you are in college, but will accrue interest for the duration of your undergrad studies and wind up costing you more in the long run. If you can, it is a good idea to be paying off old unsubsidized loans while you are in college. That too has a cost that should be figured into your needs while you are still in college; if you can barely subsist on your personal funds at school, it would be foolish to try and begin repaying your loans right then and there.

Insurance for costs not covered by the college program or by your private carrier

Be sure to review the cost of any insurance you will be paying while in college. Check carefully with the college about its plan and costs if you are required to carry health insurance and/or are not fully covered by your parents’ plan. If you expect to have a car at college, reconsider. Auto insurance is an enormous cost. If you don’t plan to have a car, check with your auto insurance carrier to see if they have a plan for college students that covers you only when you are on vacation. It will save you and your family significant money.


Come prepared for the climate. If you’re from New England and are going to USC, you should probably invest in some more shorts, and leave your parka at home.

Planning for college costs realistically will enable you to budget both your time and money, allowing you to earn enough to cover costs beyond the published COA. Careful planning will always reduce the total cost and the debt accrued over the course of your college career.


Understanding College Costs