How Much Does College Really Cost?

Tuition is the number one expense. Here are a few of the most significant expenses according to U.S. News & World Report.

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Cost is a major concern for anyone who is planning to attend college or is already enrolled. The good news is that if you're looking ahead, you'll have plenty of time to assess your expenses, make a budget and find ways to pay for everything from textbooks to visits back home. Creating a realistic list of expenses will help you pay for the essentials and avoid going into debt or taking out additional loans. Here are a few of the most significant expenses according to Federal Student Aid, an office managed by the U.S. Department of Education.

1. Tuition

No matter where you go to school, tuition is the number one expense. Fees for courses can be anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 or more. On the bright side, some of the most expensive private schools have more financial aid options. If you're interested in comparing net fees for schools on your list, check out the College Scorecard, which is managed by the Department of Education.

2. Room and Board

According to data compiled by Wells Fargo, room and board costs approximately $9,000 per year. If you attend a private college or will be leasing an off-campus house or condo, this can be $12,000 or more. You'll need to accurately estimate the cost of living in a dormitory or apartment as well as how much you'll be spending at the cafeteria, in the grocery store, at local restaurants and at student hangouts.

3. Textbooks and School Supplies

Books and supplies cost anywhere from $1,200 to $1,500 depending on which courses you are taking. You'll also need to purchase a backpack, notebooks, pencils, desk accessories and printer paper. Textbooks are expensive. Fortunately, sites like Amazon and Chegg allow you to rent books or sell them back at the end of the term. You can also buy used books.

4. Equipment

Before the first day of class, you'll need to stock up on optional and required items. You may need to purchase a laptop, and you'll probably need a printer. For your dorm, you'll need sheets, towels, lamps, a vacuum, a microwave and a refrigerator.

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5. Personal Expenses

Many essential items are provided by schools and are available within your dorm, but you'll still need to buy personal items. Don't underestimate the cost of clothing, groceries, laundry, cosmetics and toiletries. You may also need to pay for health insurance, phone service, health care and medications. These can add up to $2,000 per year.

6. Transportation

Living on campus can reduce the cost of transportation, but you'll still be traveling home for breaks and vacations. If you're going to college on the other side of the country, travel costs can be significant. Students who will be driving to school every day need to pay for insurance, gas and maintenance. Plan on spending at least $1,000 annually for transportation and travel.

7. School and Activity Fees

Annual fees are typically less than $500, but they should still be included in your budget. Fees vary by school and cover extra charges for parking stickers, extracurricular activities, gym access, cable TV and sports. Before you enroll, ask your school for a schedule of all fees to assist with budgeting. Greek societies also have dues.

Developing an annual budget can be a painstaking process. Sticking to it can be even harder. However, it's also rewarding. If you have a budget, you'll be more prepared than some of your peers, and it will be easier for you to stay on track and minimize unnecessary spending. In many ways, you'll be learning new things before college starts.

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