What is Cost of Attendance (COA) in College Education?

Cost of attending college, or COA, is the total sum you will spend on your college education, including tuition, room and boarding, books and supplies, travel costs, personal expenses and miscellaneous fees and charges. Understanding what’s included in the yearly cost of attending a particular college is the right way to go when in the planning phase.

As tuition is only a part of your college costs, you need to take into account all other additional expenses when estimating the total sum you’ll need to pay for college. If you’re applying for a loan, whether federal or private, having an estimate at hand will help you make the right decision so you don’t end up short of funds midway through school. While federal loans have certain advantages, they may cover only your tuition and not the entire cost of attending school, in which case you may need to explore a Federal PLUS loan or a private student loan.

Figuring out the Cost of Attendance

If you’re coming across varying information online about the yearly fees of a particular school, it could be because of the way those sources are calculating the fees. Of course, one of the best sources to get an idea of the average COA is the school’s website; however, do consider if the portal has been updated recently, and connect with existing and past students to know about costs that may not all included in the school’s list.

While all of the items listed under COA are not to be paid to your college, by providing this information they try to give you a fair estimate of all possible costs you will incur during your time at school. Typically, a college will include a detailed list of the costs (given below) included to arrive at the average yearly COA. If you applied for financial aid, your award letter will provide estimates specific to your admission.

Standard Inclusions in Cost of Attendance

Tuition: This is the cost of accessing education at a college, or, in simpler terms, the sum you will pay to study at the institution.

Administrative fees: These include specific expenses you will need to incur in addition to tuition, such as admission processing fees, fees toward student activities, event-related fees, club access fees, and so on.

Room & board: You will pay this sumif you choose to live and have meals on campus, which may be a good idea in your freshman year, or at least the first semester. Once you have become accustomed to your new surroundings and have made friends, you can choose to move out to live off campus, which will likely save you a significant amount on yearly accommodation and meals.

Do note that, one, most colleges do not give freshmen the option to forego on-campus room and dining, and, two, your college will offer housing and meal plans at various prices so you can choose one that you can afford. Also consider that living off campus may increase your daily travel costs. So compare both and then take a decision.

Books & supplies: Textbooks, notebooks, and materials will be an ongoing expense. While the college won’t bill this cost to you, including this item in your COA ensures you won’t overlook this important cost when planning your finances.

Transportation: If you’re going to a college in your city, you’ll incur a daily travel expense, which you can cut down by using any student discounts available on public transport. In preparing the cost of attendance colleges generally include the cost of travel home on mandatory breaks. Recreational travel is not included in this estimate.

Miscellaneous living expenses: These generally include living and other expenses not covered under above heads, such as personal care, clothing, items purchased for personal use (a study lamp or a speaker, for instance), leisure and entertainment, and other activity-related costs. This, of course, is a fluid cost and one component of your COA that you can control.

Fines, if any: These will not find a place in the cost of attendance estimate provided by your college, but they should be taken into account nonetheless. Library fines and any other fines accrued during a term make up this component; again, these are costs you can eliminate by following the school’s guidelines with regard to penalties and fines.

If you’ve maxed out your federal loans, explore private student loans to cover the variable costs associated with your university education. Private loans are particularly worth exploring if you’re going to take up a graduate course and if you have a steady income and good credit history.

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