What is Included in “Cost of Attendance?”

What is cost of attendance exactly and how does it relate to a college's pricetag

Pixabay user gdakaska

There are a lot of numbers thrown around while you’re planning out your path to college, and not all of them involve your grades. Besides tuition, a phrase you might see often involving money is the college’s “cost of attendance” or COA. Here’s the rundown on what COA is and what it includes:

What is Cost of Attendance?

The Cost of Attendance is made up of a number of factors, but it reflects the estimated total cost to attend the specific college for one full academic year. This is normally considered fall to spring. It’s dictated by Congress and every year the college may adjust their particular cost of attendance to reflect any changes with tuition, inflation, or other costs.

Your school’s estimated COA is dictated by a number of factors, including these:

Tuition and Fees

 Tuition makes up the largest chunk of the cost of attending a school. This tends to be similar for every student but 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 depend on the school. Some are “green” fees to cover any energy costs and others may charge a fee for enrolling.

Books and Supplies

Books and potential supplies are also included in the cost of attendance, though this will vary 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. Prices can generally be found on your school’s website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or other retailers.

Room and Board

This is another cost that will 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!


Transportation is often an overlooked cost, but one of the smaller parts of the overall cost of attending. 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 freshman.

Other Factors

There are quite a few things that factor into a school’s cost of attendance in addition to the items above, including 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 affect on your pocketbook, it could 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!


Hilary Cairns

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