What is Included in “Cost of Attendance?”

Besides tuition, a phrase you might see often involving money is the college’s “cost of attendance” or COA. Cost of attendance includes a lot of factors and is the estimated total cost to attend your college for one academic year. But that’s a shallow answer. Here’s the rundown on what COA is exactly and what it includes:

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What is Cost of Attendance?

Many factors make up cost of attendance. Ultimately, it reflects the estimated total cost to attend the specific college for one full academic year. Congress dictates it around the fall or spring. Every year, the college may adjust their particular cost of attendance to reflect any changes with tuition, inflation, or other costs.

Multiple factors dictate your school’s estimated COA, including:


Tuition and Fees

 Tuition makes up the largest chunk of the cost of attending a school. This tends to be similar for every student. However, it’s important to remember that the cost of tuition can also be affected by your major and number of credit hours you take per semester or quarter.

Fees are also a part of the COA. What the fees cover depends on the school. Some are “green” fees to cover any energy costs and others may charge a fee for enrolling.

Books and Supplies

Cost of attendance also includes books and potential supplies, though this varies greatly from major to major and even person to person. An English major may have to spend more on books for example, while an Art major may need to spend more on supplies. Before attending college, you might want to figure out your personal estimated cost for this area. Your school’s website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or other retailers all list prices.

Room and Board

Room and board costs vary due to your personal situation. However, the price reflected in the COA is for your dorm room and any other expenses that might occur from staying on campus. You can avoid this fee if you’re living at home with your parents or other family members. This will also not be included if you’re renting your own apartment or house during your college years, but it’s recommended to look at the pros and cons of staying on-campus vs living off. One or the other might save you money for one!


Students often overlook transportation. But, it’s still a part of your cost of attendance. It includes fees to keep your car on campus or taking the bus to and from class, for example. Also, keep in mind that many colleges do not allow cars on campus for freshmen.

Other Factors

Quite a few things factor into a school’s cost of attendance in addition to the items above. For example, laundry, cell phone bills, eating out, and other personal expenses. It’s important to note that attending an in-state college or out of state college may widely affect your personal costs.

While cost of attendance may just seem like another number, it’s one you need to know. Not only does it have an overall effect on your pocketbook, but it could also determine which financial aid package you go with. If a school has a higher COA, you could be eligible for more financial aid for that school. However, costs will always vary from student to student, so make sure to plan a budget for your upcoming years that you can stick to.

Use College Raptor to discover personalized college matches, cost estimates, acceptance odds, and potential financial aid for schools around the US—for FREE!



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