Budget-Friendly Ideas, College Planning, Finances, Housing Advice, Student Life

Cutting College Housing Costs

College can be expensive; as we’ve seen in the news recently, there are a lot of students struggling once they leave school to pay back their loans.  This is why as Mark Kantrowitz explained in our College Financial Planning series that it is important to try to cut costs where you can.

Campus housing may be one of these expenses that you consider to cut when you’re evaluating the cost of attendance. In an article we read by Emily Driscoll at Fox Business, she explains that these costs can place a great deal of financial stain on families.  In fact, according to College Board reports, the average cost of room and board for four-year public universities is $8,887 and $10,089 for private schools.  This is why we’ve put together a list of different options for students and their families looking to cut housing costs and save some money.

Compare housing packages.  According to Driscoll, if you’re looking for cheaper on-campus housing options, you may want to look at residence halls with fewer amenities or those that are further away from campus.  We also suggest choosing housing where you share a room, as this will also reduce the cost.

Choose the meal plan that fits your needs.  In another article we read by Kim Clark and Beth Braverman at CNN Money, they suggest choosing a meal plan option that fits your habits.  Often students won’t eat at the dining hall for every meal; they will either just go without eating or eat a light snack for some of their meals.  Therefore, it can be a waste of money if you’re not eating at the dining hall for those meals.  If you never eat breakfast or you don’t each much, you may want to choose a cheaper plan, as this will reduce your room and board costs.

Work in a co-op.  According to Driscoll’s article, many universities offer co-op programs that allow students to receive reduced housing costs while they work a service job on campus. If you’re looking to save money, it is certainly worthwhile to check out your school’s website to see if they offer a program like this.

Check out off-campus options.  In some cases, off-campus housing may be less expensive than on-campus options.  Especially if you live with roommates, it may help to reduce the cost of housing while you’re in school.  While your school may not live off-campus during your freshman and sophomore year, you may want to evaluate your off-campus options your junior and senior year.

However, when you are evaluating these options, it is important to factor in the cost of food, gas/transportation costs, and utility costs into the price of off-campus housing.  You should then contrast this to what you would spend living in the dorms and eating in the dining halls.  This will give you a better sense of how they differ.

Live at home.  Perhaps the most budget-conscious decision could be to live at home, if you live close enough.  That way there won’t be an added room and board cost to factor in.  The only added expense you will really have here is gas or transportation costs.

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Ask the Expert, College Planning, Finances

ASK THE EXPERT: College Financial Planning, Part 4

For the fourth installment of “Ask the Expert: College Financial Planning” series, we wanted to know how college housing choices effect financial aid decisions. To find out more, we spoke again with Mark Kantrowitz, college financial planning expert and publisher of FinAid.org and FastWeb.com.

According to Kantrowitz, room and board are factored into the cost of college attendance, making it an expense covered by a student’s financial aid package. If a student chooses to live on-campus, their room and board would be based on the dormitory fees and the standard meal plan fee. If the student chooses to live at home with their parent(s) or guardian(s), rarely will they receive any financial aid for their housing accommodations.

If the student lives in an off-campus property (other than at home), the student will be afforded an allowance within their financial aid package to cover the cost of their housing. However, this price will be an arbitrary average rent price that is based on occasional rent surveys, and as Kantrowitz explains, universities are very reluctant to change these figures once they have been set. This means that if a student chooses to live in a property that is more expensive than the housing allowance, the university will not alter their allowance to accommodate the greater price. The only circumstances in which Kantrowitz sees this change being made is when the student has extenuating circumstances, such as a disability or having a dependent, which would require them to choose a more expensive residence.

For this reason, Kantrowitz advises students to try to stay within their budgets when it comes to off-campus housing. He explains “Just because you have an allowance that says you can pay up to this amount per month for rent, doesn’t mean that you should spend that amount. This is because in most cases the money that you’re spending on your living expenses is going to come in the form of loans, not grants.” By spending up to the allotted amount or above that amount, this will not only increase the student’s expenses per month, but it will also increase the amount of debt the student will have to pay off when they graduate.

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