What College Fees Can I Expect Outside of Tuition?

December 23, 2021

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Tuition is usually the college fee you think about first. Maybe it’s even the only number. Why? Well, for obvious reasons, it’s typically the largest price tag (and the biggest reasons students choose to take out loans).

Yet a lot more goes into the total cost of college besides tuition. In fact, sometimes tuition isn’t even the most important number to look at when deciding if you should attend a particular college or university.

Let’s discuss the difference between direct and indirect fees, then the major types of college costs that fall under each fee type.

How much does college really cost?

This is the question that often keeps people from enrolling in a college or university.

However, statistics prove that you are much more likely to --

  1. find a higher-paying job
  2. have a lifelong career

-- with an Associate or Bachelor’s degree.

If you only know about the tuition price going in, you may be unpleasantly surprised by the other major student expenses that can come up.

One thing remains true: you can’t prepare for college fees if you don’t know what they are.

Knowing about all of the major types of college fees outside tuition costs can help you make a more informed decision. Also, as we will show in a later chapter, there are scholarships and internal school programs that will help you pay for certain college fees - but you have to know about them first!

Let’s get started…

College Fees v.s. Cost of Attendance

First of all, let’s get a clear definition down for college fees.

College fees make up the total cost for whatever is directly related to the college or university. This includes more than tuition, and includes things such as fees for certain classes, fees for campus improvement, and more. College fees - just like tuition - are never exactly the same at any two colleges. So it is best to get a full list of fees. For example, Delgado Community College provides a full breakdown of tuition and fees.

In an effort to be more accurate and transparent about what it actually costs to enroll in college, schools typically refer to Cost of Attendance.

The Cost of Attendance is the total sum of any fees and expenses (whether classroom-related or personal) that are associated with being enrolled as a college student.

So while College Fees make up part of the total Cost of Attendance, they’re not the whole picture. In fact, college fees are best understood as adirect cost. Meanwhile, the other costs that come with college are indirect costs.

Direct and Indirect Costs - What’s The Big Difference?

Direct costs are costs that you are only going to pay because you are choosing to enroll. Everything from tuition down to fees for student id cards and cap & gowns would go under direct costs.

Most popular examples are:

  • Tuition
  • Classroom Fees
  • Books
  • Supplies
  • Testing Fees (for a state or national licensing exam)

Meanwhile, indirect costs are merely a byproduct of attending college. They include everyday things you are going to have to pay for because you are going to and from campus, finishing special projects and more. Even online-only students have indirect costs, like a home computer and strong internet service.

The most popular examples include:

  • Classroom Supplies
  • Proper Clothing For Internship & Field Work
  • Commuting To & From Campus
  • Required & Recommended Books

The total indirect cost of going to college is almost impossible to verify 100%, because there are so many things you do everyday that could be affected by going to college. While you were most likely already driving or taking public transportation before becoming a college student, the fact that you may have to come to the campus once or more a week will impact how much you’re spending on gas or bus fare.

Same goes for food costs. Your indirect costs will be different depending on when you choose to pack a lunch, grab a snack at a vending machine, or get on-campus food.

Indirect costs will be just a little different for everyone, but with the help of the right college or university, the most important and consistent indirect costs will be taken into account. At Delgado, we help you factor in the total Cost of Attendance each semester - or how much the direct and indirect costs will be given your particular living situation.

After all, where and who you live with will be one of the biggest factors in indirect costs.

Now that we have covered all of the key definitions for college fees used by colleges and institutions nationwide, let’s cover the four major categories of college fees to better understand what goes into the “Cost of Attendance”.

Direct Cost - Tuition and Fees

You’re probably most familiar with this category of college fees. Tuition is the “sticker price” that colleges put on attendance - but what all goes into tuition exactly?

Tuition is a tricky number (become most people don’t pay the advertise) - still, what does it cover? At a most general level, tuition covers the core cost per class unit or credit hour. You know how a certain number of credit hours will earn you part-time or full-time student status? This is because the college needs to charge a certain amount per credit hour or class unit. Before you roll your eyes, think about this. The college is paying for:

  • The instructor’s salary
  • The classroom you use
  • The facilities and supplies within that building
  • The continued maintenance of this building (and all others) on campus
  • Security to keep everyone in the buildings and on campus safe

Not so hard to see now why tuition is important. It keeps a college running at an efficient level and safely.

While core college fees are within the tuition number, there also exist fees that cover the continued beautification of the campus, expansion projects, and other operational costs that keep your college of choice operational and accredited.

Direct Cost - Classroom Fees & Required Supplies

Outside of just a college campus, classrooms need to stay running smoothly. This too requires the right resources - which requires the proper funding. Classroom fees are a direct cost because they are necessarily tied to your finishing classes and graduating with a degree or certificate.

While there are many different kinds of optional personal supplies you can buy (see later on), there are certain supplies that you cannot do without. The total amount of supplies, and cost, will depend on your chosen major.

If you are a science major, there are certain lab requirements you may have to fulfill, requiring special supplies and materials you may have to buy separately. In some cases, these will be built into the tuition & fees. If you are an arts & humanities major, you are more likely to spend most of your classroom costs on books. Nursing majors will need the proper scrubs to work in any hospital setting. And so on.

Indirect Cost - Room & Board

Food in your belly and a roof over your head - these are two staples of day-to-day living, and tend to be the most significant indirect cost because of it. While you’d obviously need somewhere to live and food to eat whether you go to college or not, the traditional campus experience will require you to live in a certain area and to pay the cost of living of whatever that city or region is.

While most 4-year colleges (public or private) offer dorm living - some even require it - places like 2-year schools and community colleges do not.

While most students (and even parents) may assume that the dorm life - with its tiny dimensions and shared bathrooms and kitchens - would be much cheaper than just finding a place to rent nearby, that’s not necessarily the case.

It’s up to you to compare the cost, because in many cases dorms can be just as expensive (or even more expensive) as finding a cheap apartment or house elsewhere. While there are certain conveniences with on-campus living, such as campus security, no need for transportation, close proximity to cafeterias, and more, they can be offset by certain limitations.

For example, dorms are typically only open during a school’s operational time of year. That means that during holiday breaks and summer breaks, many colleges and universities force students to relocate. You are essentially paying for about 9 months of actual residence per year in a dorm. Meanwhile, a normal apartment has no problem with you staying every day of your agreed-upon lease.

All of the same factors apply to food. You can have the convenience of daily cafeteria living, but it may end up costing you more than grocery shopping and preparing your own meals.

Indirect Cost - Personal Expenses

The final indirect costs in which you have the most control are personal expenses. The list is wide and varied for what this could include, and entirely depends on what you are willing to spend.

It could be something as simple as:

  • Backpacks
  • [other stuff]

What About Foregone Earnings?

There’s one last category of indirect costs that we have yet to address. That would be foregone earnings, or the amount you could have earned but didn’t because you chose to devote your time to something else, like college.

This, once again, is another category is largely dependent on your situation, budget and needs. For those starting college just after high school and haven’t worked before, foregone earnings for the first two to four years will not be as big of a deal as someone who has been working full-time for years and is used to a certain income but now must abandon it to go to school full-time.

Foregone earnings are usually seen in a negative light, particularly if you plan to devote 2 to 4 years of your life to being a full-time student as an adult. However, that is only the short term outcome.

There is also a long-term foregone earnings forecast one must make that will compare what they’d expect to make had they continued to work full-time and never get a degree v.s. getting the degree and finding a new, higher-paying career for life.

In just a matter of a few years, the foregone earnings will start to be in favor of you having gone to college. Of course, that is if you took tuition costs into consideration (see chapter 1 for more).

There’s One Last Thing You Need To Keep In Mind:

Tuition & College Fees Transparency.

When choosing a college or university, one of the most important things to keep in consideration is tuition & college fees transparency. The more transparent the college is about their fee structure, and what exactly your money is going towards, the more likely you can trust them as an institution.

[End note about tuition transparency - we are transparent, here’s our tuition graph]

Now that you’ve learned all about college fees outside of tuition, it’s time to discover what sort of scholarship options are available - plus hacks on how to get scholarships that can help pay for school.