As students and parents consider the price tag of a college education, it is important to know about all the possible expenses and hidden costs. There is no formula to determine the exact cost of attending college. However, students can use tools like a net price calculator, which determines what expenses to consider when budgeting for college.

The cost of college varies by the college type (i.e., private or public) and other factors that include books, supplies, tuition, transportation, personal expenses and room and board. According to College Board, a nonprofit organization that expands access to higher education, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2014-2015 school year was $31,231 at private colleges, $9,139 for state residents at public colleges, and $22,958 for out-of-state residents attending public colleges. Students should note that tuition and fees constitute most of your college costs. But expenses such as flying home for winter break, meals, snacks and rent add up. They need to be factored in, as they can significantly increase the cost of college.

Students can use the information below as a detailed list of what expenses to consider when budgeting for college.

Tuition and Fees
Tuition covers the cost of your class instruction, and colleges usually charge tuition per semester or quarter. Tuition can vary by major and number of credits. Colleges charge amenity or program fees for resources students utilize, including transportation, athletic equipment and on-campus libraries. Most colleges combine the cost of tuition and fees into one figure.

Savings Tip: Scholarship opportunities are available to students and can significantly reduce the cost of college. Scholarships do not work like loans, which have to be paid back at the end of a student’s education. Instead, they are awarded without obligation based on a variety of factors that vary depending on the terms of the scholarship. While a lot of scholarships are based on merit, others may be awarded based on geography, ethnicity, involvement in specific clubs and a range of other factors. View this list of STEM scholarships to find some that pertain to you.


Room and Board
The price of room and board includes a student’s housing and meals. The price also varies significantly based on location and the college you attend. College Board reports that students should estimate to spend around $9,804 at four-year public schools and $11,188 at private schools. The cost will differ for room and board depending on whether you live in an on-campus dorm or apartment, in a Greek-affiliated house or an off-campus apartment.

Savings Tip: We encourage students to carefully evaluate all of their options for room and board, make a pros and cons list or comparison matrix and choose the option with the best cost and benefits to match their needs.


Books and School Supplies
The average cost of textbooks and required learning material depends on the major, as some may require more books than others. Students should budget anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per year on required learning material. This does not include the cost of a computer or computer accessories, which many students utilize throughout their collegiate career.

Savings Tip: Students can rent used textbooks from cheaper purchasing sources, such as Chegg, Amazon and also has thousands of novel and book downloads for free. Consider splitting the cost with classmates for online books and publications. To recoup some of the costs associated with textbooks, students can resell their books at the end of the semester.


The average student who lives on campus will spend anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per year on transportation. The cost can vary significantly based on the distance between the college campus and the student’s family home. The average student typically visits home at least twice a year, most commonly for winter and summer breaks, and travel during Thanksgiving and Spring break. Students should look at airfare prices to determine how much they will spend on travel per year. Students who will drive should factor in gas, maintenance, car insurance and possibly parking, as some schools require students to buy a parking pass. If you do not have a car but plan on using transportation, factor in bus fare, ride-sharing services or taxis.

Savings Tip: Look for flights months in advance in order to book cheap airfare. If you have a flexible schedule, opt to fly mid-week rather than the weekend, as fares tend to be cheaper. To save on gas, carpool or travel by bus or train. There are also ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft that offer more affordable transportation alternatives. Students should remember to routinely perform maintenance checks on their car. If campus is a short distance from home, consider biking, walking or using the bus system, if available.


Miscellaneous Expenses
For all other expenses, such as personal and entertainment, students should factor in $1,000 to $2,500 per year. This figure can vary based on your interests, activities and habits. Students attending schools outside of their city or home state might face higher expenses than students who commute because of added travel, moving and furnishing expenses.

Savings Tip: It’s never too early to create a savings budget. Cut out habits such as everyday coffee purchases or frequent dining out, which may cost hundreds of dollars over several months. Cooking and brewing your own coffee can save money and help to make college more affordable. Consult online blogs and resources for tips on how to save and minimize costs in college.


With careful planning, preparation and STEM scholarships, college can be affordable. The cost of college should not prevent you from achieving your educational goals.

Stem Study Blog