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The College Experience Expense

When a four-year university offers you “free college,” it might be too good to be true. You would assume if the school tells you it’s free, you wouldn’t have to pay for anything for four years, right? Well not quite. Many schools have programs that cover tuition for the selected students, but that’s it. There are plenty of other expenses you have to take into account before you run off to school for four years. Some of these expenses are so costly you might need to still take out a loan with a tuition-free offer. These cost, for the most part, are unavoidable, but you can find ways to cut down on each major expense if you understand what makes them so expensive, to begin with.  


The crash pad expenses

What is the first thing you think of when you hear about the cost of college? Most would probably say tuition. But, unfortunately, we are humans who need to eat, sleep and live, so there is a little more to the price tag than just class. A big expense is the cost of housing. Unless you’re already close to campus, you’re going to have to find a place to live. Depending on the location of the school, housing can cost thousands of dollars a semester both on- and off-campus.  

A way many students save on paying for housing is to live off-campus. If you’re considering living off-campus at a location miles away to save money, I do suggest to consider the value of being close to your school. Being close to campus can save you time, energy and gas, which might be worth the extra cost of rent if you can reasonably afford it. There is also the value of being more of a part of the school’s community. University club meetings and events are simply easier to attend. Make no mistake, being financially secure is the most important aspect to consider. And living far from campus doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of your school’s community. I just always suggest looking at the value of living near school and deciding if it’s worth the price for you.  


Yes, you have to pay for food

Food is a huge cost many incoming students forget about. The average on-campus meal plan costs $4,500 a year, and at some universities, it can be much more. Food is a cost you can’t avoid. Going hungry to save some money is dangerous and not worth going to your dream school over. A way to save a lot of money on food is to not have a meal plan and buy your own food. But make sure you plan out enough time to make and eat food throughout the day.

There is a lot of value in getting a meal plan to help justify the cost, too. An on-campus dining plan allows you to have hot meals ready to go on campus, which is beneficial if you’re stuck on campus all day and you want to get something to eat between classes. A good tip is to look at your school’s meal plan options; they could have different tiers of plans and have one that suits you and your needs.


Don’t forget about those ridiculous textbooks

Before you think you have your school expenses covered because you have your tuition paid for, think again. Textbooks and other supplies are not included in your tuition and always have to be factored into your budget. The average cost of textbooks at a four-year university is $1,298 a year. A way to save money on textbooks is to check prices with other vendors besides your university, like on Amazon or Chegg. You can also wait until the first day of class and confirm that the textbook is actually needed.



College costs are more than just paying the tuition. It’s a combination of living and school expenses that you have to be aware of. If you do receive offers to universities that offer “free college,” make sure you look at what the offer actually covers. And even if you don’t get “free college” offers, calculate an estimate of what everything is going cost to see if the college of your choice is a financial fit. The key to college finances is to be aware, know how much the entire experience is going to cost and have a plan to pay off that expense.


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