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What You Need to Know About College Tuition Costs

April 29, 2022

Helpful Tips When Comparing The Top Expenses Of Attending College.

Going to college is one of the most important decisions you can make. It can also be one of the most expensive. The top 5 expenses are typically tuition, supplies, food and housing, transportation, and lifestyle costs. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you’re comparing your options.

Smiling students looking at something on notebook at the college campus.


Tuition is usually the biggest expense when attending college. Schools charge tuition differently based on your student status - full-time or part-time. Generally, schools consider full-time to be 12 or more credits per term. Your status should be chosen to best suit your needs and plans. When choosing to decide whether or not to become a full-time or part-time student, consider the following:

  • Do you have a part-time job?

  • Are you applying for scholarships or financial aid that requires full-time status?

  • Does your style of learning suit a full-time or part-time schedule?

While most schools offer two or four class terms per year (semesters or quarters), some schools offer terms during the summer or winter breaks with cheaper tuition and faster timelines. This can be a great option to help reduce tuition costs.

Public institutions that are founded by a state offer lower tuition rates for residents of that state who pay taxes there. This is called in-state tuition. Consider looking at state schools in the state you currently live in to see if some offer the programs you want, and lower tuition.

It’s not uncommon to pay additional fees such as student services, campus maintenance, or the use of special equipment in technical classes. These fees are usually owed at the same time tuition is, so it is wise to find out if there are going to be additional fees you will need to add to your estimated budget.

To help with tuition fees, consider the following options:

  • FAFS - the government can give you funds to help pay for school and this is free to everyone. It could be an enormous help and it is highly recommended you apply.

  • Scholarships - this is money that is not required to be paid back. Typically awarded based on merit and achievements, there are a lot of options to apply to, including:

    • Academic scholarships

    • Community service scholarships

    • Athletic scholarships

    • Scholarships for hobbies and extracurriculars

    • Scholarships based on applicants’ identities

    •  Need-based scholarships

    • Employer scholarships and military scholarships

  • Check out our Sallie Mae Scholarship Search Tool with access to over 3.5 million scholarships worth more than $18 billion.

  • College grants are a form of aid that is gifted to students based on their financial needs. They are designed to help with tuition and typically do not require to be paid back. They are usually rewarded based on the financial needs of the student rather than their merit.


Textbooks are expensive with an average cost in the range between $40 and $300. There are some ways to help reduce the cost of textbooks. 

Sometimes there are options to rent textbooks and some classes offer digital textbooks, which are typically cheaper than printed versions. 

You can also usually sell back your textbook at the end of the term. While you won’t receive the full amount back that you paid, it still helps to get some money back.

Estimating your textbook cost is difficult if you don’t yet know what classes you will be taking but here’s a good rule of thumb: if you’re a full-time student with 12 credits, that is usually 4 classes. If you take the average cost of a textbook from above, you estimate that for one term, you may have to consider adding up to $1,200 into your budget.

Also keep in mind that some classes require specialized items like art supplies, instruments, specific clothing, and most likely pencils, pens, notebooks, a backpack, devices, and a computer or laptop.

Food and Housing

Some schools require on-campus housing during the first year as a student. Determine if the schools on your wish list require housing and what their different options are.

Dorms and residence halls are close in proximity to campus but usually require a meal plan to be purchased since they lack kitchens. They are, however, often less expensive than apartments.

Apartments can be more affordable when living with roommates. There are most likely leases involved with apartments so that should be considered when factoring the cost into your budget. There are also generally other bills involved such as gas and electricity, water, groceries, and furniture.

Yet another option of housing is potentially joining a fraternity or sorority. Fraternity and sorority houses are often large, include food options, and are well-kept. Although you generally have to pay dues as well.


Oftentimes, schools that offer on-campus living may not allow students to park a vehicle there. If they do, you may be required to pay for a parking pass. If they don't you will need to consider finding a place to keep your vehicle and any costs associated with that option.

Public transportation should also be considered, even if you own a vehicle. It could help you save on mileage and gas but may also require pass rates that should be factored into your transportation budget.


Enjoying your spare time is important but it is not free. Considering your lifestyle costs is a good idea so you know an estimated amount you can spend outside of the actual school costs. Do you like concerts, going out to dinner with friends, sporting events, or going to the movies? These, and more, will all be paid for out of your pocket so it’s critical to consider their costs to help yourself enjoy your time outside of classes without breaking your budget.

Additional Resources

Get an accurate idea of how much your college of choice may cost by completing the Cost of College course on Banzai. This short interactive course can help you make real financial estimates and research factual information directly from schools of your interest. This course is built with a sophisticated and powerful data set from the National Center for Education Statistics, meaning it can help students estimate everything from expected fees to the average cost of their school’s meal plan.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our partnered Balance Pro online financial resource. You’ll find articles, calculators, and videos related to student loan coaching, budgeting life events, and more. If you have any questions or would like to talk to one of our friendly Member Service Representatives about a budget plan, give us a call at 315-735-8571 or simply click on the button below to schedule an appointment. 

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