College expenses checklist

If you’re sending a son or daughter away to school in the next year or two, it’s smart to budget for it ahead of time. Our checklist will help you itemize the expenses college students typically face. Find out how much they cost and plug the numbers into our college budget worksheet. You may also want to consider a home equity loan as a low-interest way to cover college expenses.

Educational expenses

  • Tuition. Tuition will probably be the single largest expense, ranging from a few thousand dollars per year for an in-state college to $35,000 for private colleges. Most schools require students to pay at least a portion of the tuition before school starts. You should also budget for a yearly increase in tuition.
  • Books. The cost will vary depending on the course. The big, heavy, hardcover science and math books tend to be the most expensive – as much as $200 each. A good estimate for your book budget is about $500 per semester.
  • Computer. Students need an up-to-date computer and printer, and some courses require specific software. Computer labs are also available for students, but hours and space are limited.
  • Program Fees. Many programs levy extra fees for labs and equipment. Have your son or daughter check with the school.
  • Supplies. Your college-age kid will need a constant supply of pens and paper, as well as other items such as a backpack, organizer, binders and highlighters.

Living expenses

  • Housing. This is the student’s other big expense and will vary depending on location. Most colleges have student residences or off-campus housing with a range of prices to suit most budgets. If your son or daughter lives off-campus, there will be monthly utilities bills. The least expensive option is, of course, for your child to live at home and commute.
  • Food. Almost all colleges have a prepaid meal card that students use like a debit card for all their food on campus. But you will still need to budget money for when your son or daughter goes off campus or runs out of meal-card dollars. If he or she has special dietary needs, make sure the meal plan covers them.
  • Laundry. Most residences have coin laundries and your son or daughter will have to buy soap. It’s less expensive at the grocery store than from dispensers in the laundry room.
  • Phone. If the school your child is attending is far from home, he or she may be making a lot of long-distance calls. Don’t forget to factor in his or her cell phone, as well.
  • Internet. Students may pay a monthly fee for dial-up service or pay the school a yearly fee for access to its wireless network.
  • Medical/dental expenses. Increasingly, insurance that covers these costs is included in tuition. You can opt out of these plans if your child is already covered by your insurance plan.

Other expenses

  • Entertainment. How often does your son or daughter go to the movies? Does he or she like eating out? Estimate accordingly.
  • Parking/transportation. This is another expense that is continually on the rise. If your son or daughter owns a car, you’ll have to budget for insurance, gas and parking. Taking public transit is often less expensive, as many public systems offer student discounts.
  • Clothing. Take into account climate, seasons and the fashion culture of the school your son or daughter is attending.

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