How much you end up spending on room and board will vary greatly, depending on the school you attend and how flexible you are in terms of your choice of housing. (The average costs for room and board have been rising steadily over the years, ranging from $7,500 to $9,000 per year, depending on whether you’re looking at public or private universities.) Living in an apartment off the campus of a private school near a big city will probably cost you more than a shared dorm room at a big state university in a college town, for example. If you keep your options open – and if your school is willing to work with you – there are some ways to cut college costs when it comes to room and board. We’ve come up with some information below that will help you prepare for what you should expect when it comes to the cost of room and board, both on and off campus.
Some schools will restrict where you may reside, especially if you’re a freshman. Many colleges, whether they’re the large state universities or smaller private colleges, want their freshmen to have the true college experience, which often means a shared dorm room. Living in the dorms may have its perks, though: You’ll probably have the option of buying into a meal plan, which cuts down on the stress of worrying where your next meal will come from. Assuming you don’t eat out all the time in addition to paying for a meal plan, it’s typically a good deal. And there’s always a sense of solidarity among those living in the dorm, as you’re all in the same boat.
Some schools will offer you options as far as dorm living and how economical you want to be. If you want a dorm with air conditioning, for example, you may be expected to pay more for that luxury. Some colleges have dorms that resemble apartments more than the double rooms with twin bunk beds you may be expecting but you do end up paying more for that private bathroom. Consider all of your options when it comes to choosing your dorm, or if you really want more space but don’t want to pay for it, consider becoming a resident advisor. (Just make sure you know about the responsibilities that come with the job.)
A big part of the college experience may be your first student apartment, where you’ll learn not only how to live with roommates, but lessons in budgeting as well. No one will be pulling your room and board fees directly out of your financial aid allotment in an off-campus apartment. It will be up to you to cover the costs of rent and utilities, and everything else that comes with an apartment that you may not immediately consider, like the cable bill and groceries.
Still, there are ways to cut costs. The pool of available apartments off of a college campus will resemble those you would consider post-graduation. You’ll find less expensive options that may offer you less square footage, or that may be in a part of town that isn’t as close to campus or in as hip an area as you may like. You’ll find more expensive options the closer to campus you get, and typically, the better shape the rental is in. Be flexible if you’re on a budget. Consider what’s most important to you, whether that’s location or an extra bathroom, and take that into account when choosing an apartment. Also consider how many roommates you’d like to live with, because while it will certainly cut down costs to live with five other students, it may be hard to focus on academics in that environment...or maintain those friendships.
One option you may not want to consider is living with your parents. If your parents live close enough to campus that commuting wouldn’t take too much effort, it’s probably the most economical option out there. It’s particularly cost-effective if you’re attending a community college, whether you have the intention of eventually transferring to a four-year university or stopping at your associate degree. Sure, you may consider college your time for some freedom and independence, but it also may be nice to find your laundry done and dinner ready when you come home from a long day of college classes.
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