Not Just Tuition: All the US College Costs You Need to Consider

It’s no secret that US universities are extremely expensive, but just how expensive are they?

You know about your basic charges, such as tuition and room and board, but what about the less obvious college costs?

Flights home?

Health insurance?

Uber?

Laundry?

Clink, clink, clink, there goes all of your money!

Let’s take a hard look at all of the US college costs you need to consider so you don’t end up #broke.

P.S. These costs are estimates. Your actual college costs may vary.

So, let’s answer the question once and for all. 

How Much Does College Cost in America?

How much will an Ivy League education cost - breakout box

Obvious College Costs

College costs

Tuition

The US is notorious for having ridiculously expensive tuition, but what does your tuition cover?

God-like professors?

Virtual classrooms?

Gold chairs?

Nope! Your tuition fees cover your classes only.

Basically, your tuition is calculated via units/credits per semester or quarter and can vary based on your major.

For example, at Boston University your tuition includes 16 mandatory credits each semester which equates to four classes plus the ability to take four extra credits free of charge.

Yep, you read that right – you’ll be spending thousands and thousands of dollars just to take classes that you probably won’t attend all the time.

Makes you think twice about skipping class, huh?

That being said, not all tuition costs are created equal.

Take a look at the average cost of tuition in 2017-2018:

Private Universities: $34,740 USD a year*

In-State Public Universities: $9,970 USD a year

Out-of-State Public Universities: $25,620 USD a year

NB: a year in this article refers to the average school year (about 9 months)

At $5,620 USD a year, Brigham Young University holds the 2017-2018 record for the cheapest college tuition and Columbia University has the most the most expensive tuition: $54,504 USD a year.

The discrepancies in these prices just go to show you that where you go to uni makes a huge difference in how much money you spend.

P.S. While in-state tuition seems way cheaper off the bat, state colleges often have less financial aid to give away than private colleges, so your net cost may be much higher at a state college than at a private college.

Tally:

Tuition: $5,620-$54,504 USD a year

Room and Board

The next major cost you need to consider is your housing and food a.k.a. room and board!

Most colleges require that you live on campus for your first year but some allow you to live off campus or commute, which can save you a bit of money.

Either way, you can’t just live in a tent and starve for four years, right?

According to the College Board, room and board cost between $10,800 USD a year and $12,210 USD a year, which breaks down to about $1,200 USD-$1,356 USD a month for food and a place to live.

That’s not that bad, right?

Especially considering you’ll have almost unlimited access to dining hall (d-hall) food (helllloo dessert buffet) and relatively nice, cement block to live in.

However, your room and board costs don’t actually stop there.

Your “room” costs only include basic furniture such as a bed, desk and lamp so you’ll need to purchase sheets, a pillow and anything else you might want to feel comfortable in your room.

There goes another $150-$500 USD!

Oh, and you’ll probably want to eat out with your friends every once in a while since rubbery d-hall chicken and packaged ramen can only satisfy you for so long.

Adios $1,500- $2,750 USD a year!

Alright, alright, please pick your jaw off the floor and let me explain why you need that much money to eat.

$1,500 a year equates to just above $40 a week to spend on food and coffee.

If you got a cup of Starbucks every day before class that’s $20 a week, which means you’ll be left with $20 for the rest of the week. That’s about 2 lunches or one (cheaper) dinner with your friends on the weekend.

$2,750 a year leaves you with about $75 a week, which means you can have your coffee and go out a bit more.

Disclaimer: You don’t actually need any additional money for food; the dining hall food is more than sufficient. That being said, a big part of social life in college is going out to eat on so having a bit of extra cash is beneficial.

Tally:

Tuition: $5,620-$54,504 USD a year

Room and Board: $0 (if living at home) - $12,210 USD a year

Extra Cash for Room: $0 (if living at home) - $500 USD

Extra Cash for Food: $1,500-$2,750 USD a year

Less Obvious College Costs

Less obvious college costs

Textbooks

In the medieval times (a.k.a. 5-10 years ago), you would've spent upwards of $1,200 USD a year on textbooks and unfortunately, if you’re a pre-med student (medicine is not an undergraduate major in the US so students who wish to eventually study medicine are dubbed “pre-med”), you may still spend that much.

However, for the rest of you, your textbook costs will be a lot less thanks to used book websites, rentable books, the library and professors finally understanding that it makes no sense to spend $200 on a book you’ll never use.

Most (caring) professors now upload the necessary book pages online or simply don’t require expensive books.

Thanks profs!

Tally:

Tuition: $5,620-$54,504 USD a year

Room and Board: $0 (if living at home) - $12,210 USD a year

Extra Cash for Room: $0 (if living at home) - $500 USD

Extra Cash for Food: $1,500-$2,750 USD a year

Books: $100-$1,200 USD a year

Other School Supplies

If you’re one of those people who loves fancy pens, notebooks, staplers, tape dispensers and any other school supplies you can get your hands on, you’ll have to add $150 or so dollars to your budget.

However, if you’re happy taking notes in a crappy notebook with average pens or using your computer, your school supply costs can be pretty minimal.

P.S. Depending on your college’s set up it may make sense to buy a printer so you don’t need to run to the library at 3am to print out a paper for your 8am class, but if you don’t want to shell out $50 for a printer (plus more for ink and paper) there’s bound to be someone on your floor who isn’t as stingy as you are!

Tally:

Tuition: $5,620-$54,504 USD a year

Room and Board: $0 (if living at home) - $12,210 USD a year

Extra Cash for Room: $0 (if living at home) - $500 USD

Extra Cash for Food: $1,500-$2,750 USD a year

Books: $100-$1,200 USD a year

Other Supplies: $50-$250 USD a year

Laundry

Most dorms are equipped with laundry rooms but you still need to pay for every load you wash, plus your detergent!

There goes another $200 a year!

Tally:

Tuition: $5,620-$54,504 USD a year

Room and Board: $0 (if living at home) - $12,210 USD a year

Extra Cash for Room: $0 (if living at home) - $500 USD

Extra Cash for Food: $1,500-$2,750 USD a year

Books: $100-$1,200 USD a year

Other Supplies: $50-$250 USD a year

Laundry: $200 USD a year

Lab Fees

Some courses require you to pay extra fees for supplies, especially if you’re a pre-med or art major.

Tally:

Tuition: $5,620-$54,504 USD a year

Room and Board: $0 (if living at home) - $12,210 USD a year

Extra Cash for Room: $0 (if living at home) - $500 USD

Extra Cash for Food: $1500-$2750 USD a year

Books: $100-$1,200 USD a year

Other Supplies: $50-$250 USD a year

Laundry: $200 USD a year

Lab Fees: $50 per course

Fraternities and Sororities/Other Social Clubs

If you’ve ever seen a movie about college in the US, then you would be familiar with fraternities (frats) and sororities, which are the heart of social life in most colleges.

However, what the movies don’t tell you is how expensive these social clubs can be.

Most range from a couple of hundred dollars a semester to thousands of dollars... to party (and find your lifelong best friends)!

Other college social clubs, such as drama club or dance club, also come at a cost but they tend to be much cheaper than frats and sororities.

Tally:

Tuition: $5,620-$54,504 USD a year

Room and Board: $0 (if living at home) - $12,210 USD a year

Extra Cash for Room: $0 (if living at home) - $500 USD

Extra Cash for Food: $1,500-$2,750 USD a year

Books: $100-$1,200 USD a year

Other Supplies: $50-$250 USD a year

Laundry: $200 USD a year

Lab Fees: $50 per course

Social Clubs: $100-$6,000 USD a year

Health Insurance

It makes sense to get insurance while you’re at college in case you fall after a fun night out. Or catch the flu. Or something worse…

Tally:

Tuition: $5,620-$54,504 USD a year

Room and Board: $0 (if living at home) - $12,210 USD a year

Extra Cash for Room: $0 (if living at home) - $500 USD

Extra Cash for Food: $1,500-$2,750 USD a year

Books: $100-$1,200 USD a year

Other Supplies: $50-$250 USD a year

Laundry: $200 USD a year

Lab Fees: $50 per course

Social Clubs: $100-$6,000 USD a year

Health Insurance: $1,500-$3,000 USD a year

Fun

Believe it or not, you'll probably want to have fun every once in a while in college(even you pre-med students).

Whether it be going bowling or going on dates you’ll want a little extra cash to carry around.

I’d suggest about $500-$1,000 USD a year.

Tally:

Tuition: $5,620-$54,504 USD a year

Room and Board: $0 (if living at home) - $12,210 USD a year

Extra Cash for Room: $0 (if living at home) - $500 USD

Extra Cash for Food: $1,500-$2,750 USD a year

Books: $100-$1,200 USD a year

Other Supplies: $50-$250 USD a year

Laundry: $200 USD a year

Lab Fees: $50 per course

Social Clubs: $100-$6,000 USD a year

Health Insurance: $1,500-$3,000 USD a year

Fun: $500-$1,000 USD a year

Transportation

Ever heard of Uber?

It’s a ride-sharing app that’s going to be your (expensive) best friend in college.

It will take you everywhere you need to go in a timely (and expensive) manner.

In most major cities, $20 a week for Uber is a safe bet.

However, if you want to save some money, there’s probably a local metro or bus system that may or may not be convenient.

Tally:

Tuition: $5,620-$54,504 USD a year

Room and Board: $0 (if living at home) - $12,210 USD a year

Extra Cash for Room: $0 (if living at home) - $500 USD

Extra Cash for Food: $1,500-$2,750 USD a year

Books: $100-$1,200 USD a year

Other Supplies: $50-$250 USD a year

Laundry: $200 USD a year

Lab Fees: $50 per course

Social Clubs: $100-$6,000 USD a year

Health Insurance: $1,500-$3,000 USD a year

Fun: $500-$1,000 USD a year

Transportation: $200-$1,000 USD a year

Travel

You have two major vacations during college (winter and summer break), plus a few long weekends including Thanksgiving. And you’ll probably also want to go home at some point.

If you’re an international student, your flight home can be quite costly so you need to make sure to budget for at least one flight home a year.

P.S. Don’t forget to take your Mexico #SPRINGBREAAAAAK trip into account as well!

Tally:

Tuition: $5,620-$54,504 USD a year

Room and Board: $0 (if living at home) - $12,210 USD a year

Extra Cash for Room: $0 (if living at home) - $500 USD

Extra Cash for Food: $1,500-$2,750 USD a year

Books: $100-$1,200 USD a year

Other Supplies: $50-$250 USD a year

Laundry: $200 USD a year

Lab Fees: $50 per course

Social Clubs: $100-$6,000 USD a year

Health Insurance: $1,500-$3,000 USD a year

Fun: $500-$1,000 USD a year

Transportation: $200-$1000 USD a year

Travel: $1,000-$3,000 USD a year

Safety Cash

You want to make sure you have a few extra bucks for any emergencies that may arise.

Your computer could break.

Your bed could break.

Your friend might want to go on a weekend trip to get over her ex.

Whatever the emergency may be, having a few flexible dollars is always a good idea.

Tally:

Tuition: $5,620-$54,504 USD a year

Room and Board: $0 (if living at home) - $12,210 USD a year

Extra Cash for Room: $0 (if living at home) - $500 USD

Extra Cash for Food: $1,500-$2,750 USD a year

Books: $100-$1,200 USD a year

Other Supplies: $50-$250 USD a year

Laundry: $200 USD a year

Lab Fees: $50 per course

Social Clubs: $100-$6,000 USD a year

Health Insurance: $1,500-$3,000 USD a year

Fun: $500-$1,000 USD a year

Transportation: $200-$1,000 USD a year

Travel: $1,000-$3,000 USD a year

Safety Cash: $500-$1,000 USD a year

Final Thoughts

Going to college in America is expensive. Period.

You’ll need anywhere from $11,320 to $86,664 USD a year in college.

The discrepancy is huge, but it shows you how much doing certain things like living at home or not going out to eat can save you.

Keep in mind that these numbers don’t take into account financial aid, which may also bring down your college costs significantly.

It’s time to start saving!

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