How to Budget for Out-of-Pocket College Costs

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For many students, financial aid can be the difference between attending college or staying at a dead-end job they hate. And while financial aid for college can be a sound investment, you need to make sure you understand all the costs to attend. Financial aid likely won’t cover everything, and you need to understand—and budget for—your out-of-pocket costs.

1. Calculate the Total Cost of Your Expenses

You might look at a school’s tuition and think that that’s the total amount you’ll spend on your degree or certificate program. But there may be many other expenses that you may need to pay. Open a spreadsheet or grab a notebook and start to list the full cost of attending college. Write down the cost of tuition first. If you’re going to live on campus, add room and board. Next, add in any student fees that the school or program may charge. What supplies will you need? Check the catalog to see if your program requires you to buy special clothing, equipment, or software. Do you have a laptop, will you need to buy one, or will the school provide one free-of-charge for specific programs? Will you take classes online or will you commute to campus? If so, add in the cost of travel to and from campus. And don’t forget to budget for textbooks. Once you have a list of every cost, add it up to find out the real cost of your education.

2. Estimate Your EFC

Before you fill out the FAFSA, use an online calculator to estimate your EFC, or Expected Family Contribution. The U.S. Department of Education will calculate this based off your form to determine how much aid you are eligible for. Once you have your EFC, subtract it from the total amount of expenses that you previously calculated. That will give you a more realistic picture of the costs, possible financial aid, and out-of-pocket expenses you’ll need to budget for.

3. Choose an Online Program

If you want to save significant money, live at home and not on campus. You may also save money by taking an online program. You won’t have to worry about the cost of the commute and some of your instructors may use digital textbooks or downloadable resources that can cost less. Plus, you’ll have the flexibility and convenience of completing your work when and where you need to, which means you’ll be able to stay on the job and continue earning while you learn.

4. Find a Discounted Laptop

Whether you are an online or on-campus student, you’ll need a computer to complete your schoolwork. While on campus, you’ll probably be able to use your school’s technology, but you’ll still need a computer to work at home. If you don’t already own one, look into student discounts that might be offered from companies like Apple, Dell and Lenovo. Shop around to find the best deal for what you need.

5. Look for Deals on School Supplies

College programs aren’t the same as classes you remember from high school. You won’t need a ton of supplies because most of what you do will be on a computer. But when you do need to buy paper, notebooks, pens, etc., shop for bargain school supplies.

At Charter College, we want you to understand the financial responsibility of investing in your education. Let us help you navigate financial aid and take a look at all your options. Call 888-200-9942 or fill out the form to learn more.