Room, board, and personal expenses make up about half the cost of college. It certainly matters what the expense is because parents and students need to accurately estimate costs to know what the annual cost of college will be. This can determine both the choice of college and the amount to borrow.
Costs for living off campus can vary greatly, from a high of almost $19,000 per year to as low as $9,000. Location impacts cost. Living in Brooklyn will be much more expensive than living in Burlington, VT. Statistics can also vary. Even though the government requires colleges to report both on-and off-campus expenses and outlines what they should include in those reports, there is wriggle room. Colleges can tend to underestimate costs of off-campus living so the overall cost looks more attractive. Then students can end up with too little to cover their annual living costs. Other colleges overestimate the costs of their off-campus living to make their own dormitories look attractive and to help students quality for low cost federal loans. But, when this happens, students can over borrow. Because you tend to spend what you borrow, this contributes to higher student debt.
Students and their parents can check the College Scorecard website for estimated on-and off-campus costs of colleges. But, they both should be aware of extra costs for off-campus living. Think about these things:
• You will be paying for your own internet and cable.
• You will need renters’ insurance.
• Laundry may have to be done at a laundromat which can be more expensive than machines in a dorm.
• You may be steps away from coffee shops, small restaurants, stores, and other attractions which may entice you to spend more.
• You will have to commute to the campus which can cost in gas and/or other transportation fees.
• There will be a deposit you may have to pay for your apartment, and you may lose it through no fault of your own.
• You will be expected to outfit your apartment with furniture and décor that is already mostly provided in the dorms.
• Cooking on your own can be less expensive than campus food plans; it can also quickly add up if you don’t know how to shop and cook on a budget.
It is important to be clear about what it will cost to live at the college you are attending. This factor is a large one in the overall cost of your education, and that cost or debt can impact the rest of your life.