What Does College Cost? One Family’s First Year Expenses

by Julie on August 15, 2011 · 41 comments

Last week we took our daughter back to college to begin her sophomore year.

With one full year of expenses under our belts, I thought I would take the chance to look back and see exactly what the first year cost.

Here’s the tally:

Tuition/Room & Board/Books: $9879

  • Room = $3342
  • Tuition = $2651*
  • Board (Meal Plan) = $2312
  • Books = $1074**
  • Deposits (Enrollment and Housing) = $500

Fees: $1976

  • Required Campus Fees = $858
  • Technology Fees = $438
  • Orientation Fee = $130
  • Cash for incidentals placed on student’s account = $200
  • Parking Pass – $190
  • Sports Combo Pass = $150
  • Student ID = $10

Purchased for School (one- time expenses): $2322

  • Computer, printer, software,etc. = $1749
  • Dorm Room Expenses (Loft rental, microwave, refrigerator, bedding, etc.) = $572

Sorority: $3258

  • Dues: $2247
  • Moms/Dads Weekends, Family Day, Initiation Luncheon, etc. = $727
  • Pin: $159
  • Rush Registration = $125

Total: $17,435

* In-state, public university after scholarships.

** Some of this cost was recouped when the books were sold back; I don’t have that amount.

What’s Not Included:

College Search Costs – These numbers don’t reflect the costs incurred while she was still in high school. That included things like ACT prep and tests, application fees, and travel for college visits.

Spending money – Our daughter was responsible for her own spending money for the year, so I don’t have detailed information on what she spent on things like eating out, clothes, laundry, gas, etc.

Travel expenses – Because she attends school close to home, there weren’t any travel expenses incurred, other than her gas going back and forth.

So that’s a real-life look at one family’s first-year college expenses. Anything surprise you?

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Financial Success for Young Adults August 15, 2011 at 8:57 am

I bet if I added up my actual college costs they would be pretty close. Although I didn’t have any expenses for a sorority, I did live on campus and my books for business classes were ridiculously expensive. Also each class that we took as a pre-req business class was an extra 50 bucks.


Julie August 15, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Interesting. Do you know why they charged extra for the pre reqs?


Niki August 15, 2011 at 9:55 am

Whoa, it adds up quick.

Thank you for sharing this.


Julie August 15, 2011 at 3:49 pm

It certainly does, Niki.


Denise @ The Single Saver August 15, 2011 at 10:00 am

It has been quite a few (ahem) years ago, but my expenses were very different. My parents paid my tuition. it was at a local private college so the tuition was higher, but I lived at home so there was no lodging expenses.

I was expected to buy my own books, incidentals, food/meals that weren’t consumed at home, computer, gas, etc. I thought this was a fair trade-off since my parents paid for the actual tuition.

I wasn’t in a sorority but if I was I suspect I would have been expected to cover most of those expenses on my own, or at least part of them. I had no clue sororities were so expensive until I read this post!

Selling books back (or better yet, selling them yourself on eBay, Amazon, or half.com) is a very smart way to save some money on expenses. Also, buying books used through eBay, Amazon, or half.com will save a lot of money over buying them from the bookstore. I learned that lesson after my first semester. Trust me, paying for the books yourself makes you learn how to cut corners REAL fast! :)


Julie August 15, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Denise, Sounds like you and your parents worked out an arrangement you were both happy with.

Such a good point about the books. My daughter is actually renting a lot of her books this year.


Denise @ The Single Saver August 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Renting books? I have not heard of this. How does it work? Sounds like a great way to cut costs!!


Julie August 17, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Denise, my daughter rented hers through the university’s book store. Another site I have heard of is Chegg.com. I think a lot of sites are popping up, however, because it’s such an affordable option.


Sheila August 15, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Thanks for posting the information. That is an eye opener for parents, especially with little ones. Prepare early and don’t be caught off guard.


Julie August 15, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Sheila, preparing early is so important. That 18 years goes much faster than you can imagine. I hope the info was helpful to you. It was eye opening for me to compile it.


retirebyforty August 15, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Sorority? I would never pay for my child to go to a sorority/fraternity. They can get a job if they want to join those organizations.


Julie August 15, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Actually, retire, she does have a job. Her money goes for other things. We supported her desire to join a sorority so we were happy to foot the bill. I understand some parents may see it differently.


anotherhousewife August 15, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Thank You So Much for this post! I do have a step son who is a Sophomore at the university but he has an academic scholarship and lives at home with his mom and being a blended family is another issue :) I have three more at home the oldest being in the fifth grade and this was really eye opening. I love how you broke it all down. I would have never thought of the possibility of sorority cost. I think I will print this for as a reminder of what’s to come, w/inflation of course!


Julie August 16, 2011 at 7:37 am

I am so glad you found it helpful. I never considered how having a blended family could complicate the situation. Thanks for your comment.


Freddie @ Invest With Passion August 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm

My stomach hurts looking at these numbers because my oldest is only 5 years away from college. I can’t believe it, but these cost are very sobering.

We are working hard on a scholarship because he wants to go to M.I.T. and I am afraid to even look at the cost of that school.

Fingers crossed!


Julie August 16, 2011 at 7:39 am

Wow…M.I.T. That would be an amazing opportunity for him. There are all kinds of scholarships out there, but it takes some organization to research them and apply for them. Luckily, you have a good head start.


Kellen August 19, 2011 at 12:53 pm

If he can get into MIT, it’s definitely worth applying to the other top schools – Harvard has a ton of financial assistance available because they are such a wealthy school. They pay for it with the rich kids who may not be quite as outstanding as the scholarship kids…


Kim September 23, 2011 at 1:06 pm

My niece is starting her freshman year at M.I.T. this year, and actually their financial aid package for my niece was outstanding, from what I hear (don’t know all the specifics). It ended up being one of the cheapest options for her, and of course, a great school, so that’s where she went.

Looking at Julie’s numbers above, it’s a real eye opener to see that the “tuition” portion was only $2651 after scholarships, yet the total $$ spent was over $17,000. It’s easy to forget about all those fees!


Julie September 23, 2011 at 4:45 pm

That surprised me too, Kim. LOL We tend to focus so much on tuition, but the other stuff really adds up. Congrats to your niece!


Marie at FamilyMoneyValues August 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Our family has a 4 generation tradition of having the parents put the kids through college.

My maternal grandparents put my Mom through teachers college basically for free. She lived at home and somehow they didn’t have to pay for tuition (never got the story and they are all gone now).

My parents put my brother and I through state university for about $1000 a year for all expenses (about 40 years ago).

We put our boys through state university (well they went out of state for a couple of years each as well) for about $10,000 a year for all expenses (about 15 years ago).

My boy is planning and saving to put his kids (now 7 and 3) through college and he anticipates it will cost about $200,000 for a four year education when they reach college age.

It’s ridiculous.

I think it makes money sense to have the kids attend two years of junior college to get the basics out of the way while they live at home (assuming the 4 year college accepts the credits).


Julie August 16, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Great tradition, Marie. It’s amazing — and disheartening — how much college costs have escalated. Your four generation story illustrates that well.

I agree that junior/community college can be a great money-saver. Our daughter was able to earn a semester’s worth of credits through our community college while she was still in high school.


femmefrugality August 19, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Geez, it’s ridiculous how much things keep going up. When I started school I started at a big university…only to find out I hated my major. That mistake cost me $10,000. Community colleges are a saving grace. Do two years. Find out which programs accept which credits. And if you change your mind…a WHOLE lot less money lost.


Julie August 20, 2011 at 11:44 am

That’s a good point! Sorry it was such an expensive mistake. I agree with you about the costs rising. I really wish I could remember exactly how much my education at the same school cost 25 years ago. It was definitely a fraction of the price.


Broke Professionals August 16, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Wow, the sorority is as costly as the tuition. We don’t have kids yet, but we will pay for their college, we are saving for that. Even with tuition <20% it sure adds up quickly…


Julie August 16, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Yes, it does. The tuition would have been $6k more without scholarship, but even still I was surprised by all the fees, etc.


Evan August 17, 2011 at 10:46 am

Maybe I am crazy or maybe it is because I am only 29 and went to a private school but those numbers don’t seem as bad as when you read any news story on the cost of education


Julie August 17, 2011 at 11:04 am

I don’t think they’re that bad either, Evan. I think in-state and scholarships have a lot to do with that. But — you’re right — most news stories imply that a six figure education is a foregone conclusion.


Jesse @ BP August 18, 2011 at 2:13 pm

For a first year those costs seem just about right or slightly on the high side after scholarships but that’s just me..I avoided anything and everything I could in college that cost me more money :)


lana August 26, 2011 at 8:09 pm

In state University 1st year
Tuition $0 Presidental Scholarship
Books $0 See above
Parking $190 school year
Phone $27 a month
Car Insurance $75 a month
Lunches and gas $250 a month
Lived at home

2nd year
Tuition went up
Tuition $720 a semester, maintained the scholarship
Parking $280
Books $500 (He wanted them new for reference) a semester
Insurance $95 a month
Phone $27 a month
He moved out, so we are helping with rent $250 a month

I’m personally not happy that the University slapped on an extra $400 fee for Natural Sciences. He wants to be a Math and Science Teacher.

Hopefully, as the next two years come up we can still help while
assisting a younger son through college as well. Our goal is for
us all to have no debt upon graduation.


Julie August 26, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Lana, I’d say you’re well on your way to your goal. Good work.


Becky August 30, 2011 at 12:47 am

It’s interesting to see how much costs vary throughout the country. One thing I was told once was that in the East, the good, and expensive, colleges are the small ones, whereas in the West, the good colleges are the bigger universities, which are usually cheaper.

I went to college from 2000 to 2004, in Utah.

In-state tuition: $0 (Presidential scholarship, but tuition went from $1000 up to $1500/semester the four years I was there.)
Fees: Usually $300 to $500/semester
Books: $200-400/ semester
Parking: $35/semester

I didn’t have a cell phone or a laptop. Most students didn’t, at least when I started. There were on campus computer labs for student use.

I lived at home, so my parents paid my car insurance and fed me. They also bought a lot of my gas. I paid for my car ($90/month), and all campus expenses, as well as my own spending money. All in all, fairly cheap, but I shudder to think what college will cost for my kids. Very interesting article.


Julie August 30, 2011 at 11:02 am

Becky, good job economizing on your education. You’re right, the increase in college costs is alarming.


Lauren August 30, 2011 at 3:24 pm

I understand this might be personal, but what made you decide to pay for sorority expenses? This was something my parents balked at for my brother ( I personally wasn’t interested).


Julie August 31, 2011 at 9:24 am

Lauren, I don’t mind answering. The truth is we were fine with her decision to pledge a sorority and we really never considered not paying for it. I suppose we could have asked her to pay for the expenses involved, but then we would have had to pick up the tab for something else she’s paying for (clothes, gas money, etc.) so we didn’t see the point. I understand parents who can’t or don’t want to pay for extras like this, however. It’s whatever works for your family.

Thanks for the question.


John Charest May 12, 2012 at 7:27 am

I would recommend to everyone that they rent books rather than purchasing them. There are great rental companies out there that you can use. My son is a college sophmore and will save thousands over four years by renting.

Than I would recommend thinking outside of the box rather than relying on tradional methods of financing a college education like student loans and sending mom and dad to the poor house. Not enough parents realize that there are hundreds of local scholarships right in their own communities that they can take advantage of excluding the ones that get awarded through the college or university.

I’m amazed at the number of parents that I speak with who struggle to send their kids to college who have no idea of the scholarships that exist out there.

I’ll have two in college next year…YIKES!


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