Room and Board expenses are a significant portion of the cost of attendance. Many schools combine room and board (food) charges when presenting their cost of attendance figure and the room and board figures that are published by most schools are typical or average costs for entering freshman. Sometimes your actual cost may differ from the published cost depending on the room and meal plan the student chooses. It is very important that you review the room and board options at each target school to look for opportunities to save and to avoid unexpected costs.
Review the housing options at each school and have a frank family discussion about which options are affordable. By carefully reviewing your housing options, you may be able to save thousands of dollars and avoid large unexpected expenses.
Published room charges for school owned housing are for typically the nine months of school. Students return home for the summer or find alternative housing at extra cost for those months.
Charges for rooms vary considerably from school to school and often vary considerably across one campus. Singles are more expensive than doubles which are more expensive that triples. Suite style options may be more expensive than traditional dormitory rooms.
Will the student require a private room (highest cost) or be content to share a triple room (much less costly)?
Want and need are two different things.
Do most students live in school housing for all four years? Is it required?
Although some schools guarantee on-campus housing for all four years, many only guarantee on-campus housing for one or two years. Those that provide upper class housing sometimes offer more luxurious accommodations but charge a significantly higher rate. Research options up front and manage expectations.
What are the off-campus options if on-campus housing is not guaranteed and what is the cost for each option?
Sometimes living off campus is more expensive than living on campus and sometimes it is less expensive.
Is commuting from home a possibility?
If yes, you will save a lot of money at most schools. But don’t forget to include the commuting costs.
Most schools offer several options for meal plans, although some still go with a one-size fits all approach. As with campus housing, the published meal plan cost is often the “typical” plan which may provide more food or less food than the student requires.
Is the student more apt to eat like a football player or a ballerina?
If the student won’t have morning classes or will likely get out of bed 15 minutes before morning class, a plan that includes breakfast will not make sense. Since most college students sleep very late on the weekend, many colleges only serve two meals on Saturday and Sunday – brunch and dinner. Very few students will eat every meal in the campus dining facilities and many colleges count on “missed meal” revenue to generate a profit from the dining operation.
What specific meal plans are available at the school and what are the requirements to participate in each plan?
College meal plans vary considerably from comprehensive plans which offer 19 or 21 “all you can eat” meals per week to smaller plans that combine fewer all you can eat meals with “dining dollars” or “dining points” that can be used to purchase a la cart meals or grab and go food. Have a discussion with your son or daughter about the meal plan options. If there are options, decide together on the one that fits best. Review the meal plan choice after the first semester and then again each year to determine if you can reduce your costs without starving your child. When in doubt start off with the smaller plan since some schools will charge a fee if you downsize mid semester, but will allow you to upsize without penalty.