College cost, which is sometimes referred to as the total student budget, includes both billable and indirect costs.

Billable costs

These are fixed costs that the family is billed for by the college – such as tuition and fees, and room and board.

Indirect costs

These are the costs that don’t show up on the college bill. They include books, supplies and travel, as well as personal expenses such as laundry, telephone and pizza. If your child lives and dines off campus, room and board costs will also be indirect costs. Your child can control indirect costs to some degree, by making smart spending choices.

Five basic cost components

The full cost of attendance should contain five components:

Tuition and fees

These are the costs of your child’s education. They may vary based on academic program and number of credit hours. If the tuition is not the same for all full-time students, you may have to calculate your child’s own tuition based on the charge per credit hour. The tuition charge will appear on the bill.

Room and board

These costs are billed by the college, if your child lives and takes meals on campus. The charges will vary depending on the room and meal plan chosen. If your child plans to live off campus, it will be necessary to make an estimate of these expenses.

Books and supplies

This expense covers your child’s course materials. If the college hasn’t provided an estimate, know that the national average at four-year public colleges in 2008-09 is $1,077.

Personal expenses

The costs for things like The costs for things like laundry and telephone fall under personal expenses. Keep careful track of these as they can quickly build up. To help you plan, the national average for four-year public colleges in 2008-09 is $1,906.


Travel is usually not added to the budget, unless the student lives more than a few hundred miles away from campus. If a figure has not been provided, make your own estimate based on how and how often your child plans to travel.

Get the specifics

These cost components are usually listed in a college’s brochure or Web site. You can also use College Search to find breakdowns of costs at more than 3,800 colleges and universities.

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