Financial Aid, Tuition

Understanding Basic Tuition and Other College Fees

If you plan on attending some form of higher education, it is important you consider the total cost of your studies. If you go to college or university in the United States, you are faced with four different types of expenses. It is essential you determine exactly what these costs entail. If you do not, you might find yourself with insufficient funds to cover the complete cost of even year in school.

Money /401(K) 2012

The basic categories

When you consider the overall cost of your education, you need to consider it in four categories. These are:

  • Initial costs – Application fees, entrance tests, visiting the campus, etc.
  • Tuition and other mandatory fees – The actual cost of tuition
  • School-related costs – These include necessities such things as electronic devices, textbooks, apps, etc.
  • Living expenses – These include rent, travel costs, insurance, transportation, etc.

While the most money is spent on tuition, you need to factor in the costs involved with other education-related items.


An education in the United States ranks as one of the most expensive on the planet. The type of university or college you apply to will affect the overall cost. As is to be expected, if you apply for a two-year college, it will be significantly less expensive than tuition for a top-tier Ivy League University. At these high-end universities and colleges, both the tuition and the living expenses are substantially higher than those at other colleges and universities.

To find out the actual cost, you need to talk to the different administration officers at each college. They can provide you with up-to-date information. Much of the material is also available online. Do be aware that tuition can increase without much warning.

Mandatory fees

No matter what college you attend, you will find several fees attached to your tuition. The total can be significant depending upon what fees are involved. While at some universities, you can opt out of a few of the fees added on to your bill, others are mandatory. The most common fees tend to be for:

  • Sports center
  • Activities
  • Technology
  • Health – For health insurance and or services
  • General – For non-specified services

Living expenses

This is an area that is often vastly underestimated, since it contains a wide variety of items from meals to resident costs, it needs to be examined closely. A budget will take into account all incoming money and translate it into how much you can afford to spend.

A budget for your living expenses needs to include such items as:

  • Rent – If you live at home, rent may be inexpensive. This may not be the case if you have to move to attend the college of your choice. It will vary according to whether you live on-campus or off; if you rent a room, share an apartment or house, of live alone.
  • Utilities – This includes the cost of heat and electric as well as cable and/or internet.
  • Phone – Your cell phone or house phone bill.
  • Insurance – This may be personal, health, car or renter’s.
  • Transportation – If you have a car, you will have to pay for on campus parking. If you take the bus, include the cost in your budget. If you go home for visits, do not forget to factor this in.
  • Food – Whether you eat on campus or make your own meals, food can be expensive. At the same time, it is important that you eat right. If you have roommates, you may be able to pool the food costs.
  • Sundries – Do not forget that in addition to groceries, you have to wash dishes, bathe and take care of personal hygiene. While dish detergent for both clothing and dishes may be shared, your own personal items will need to be purchased.

If you have questions or are uncertain how to budget, tuition calculators, such as this one offered by the College Board, can help you estimate what your year at school might cost.

School costs

Even students who live at home still have to come up with money to pay expenses aside from the actual tuition. There are things such as transportation, food, books and fees. You need to be certain that you can address each of these items completely before you sign on to attend the university of your choice.

Photo credit: 410(K) 2012 / Flickr

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The Author

Mary Brown

Mary Brown

Mary Brown has enjoyed writing about education and finance related topics, such as scholarships, student loans, college, vocational degree choices, and adult education since the early 2000's. She also writes about school budgets, accreditation and fundraising.

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