Living expenses of a college education

ALBANY, NY – As college-bound students eagerly await the coming fall and their first days at college, many are shopping for the supplies they want to bring along to campus. To avoid a budgeting crisis in the fall, remember that college costs include more than tuition, room and board.

The New York State Higher Education Services Corp. (HESC) reminds students and families to plan for living expenses and school supplies that add significantly to college costs. HESC is the state’s financial aid agency that helps people pay for college.

Here are a few college start-up costs to keep in mind:

Dorm supplies – New college students will need bedding – a set or two of sheets (usually extra-long); blanket/s, bedspread and pillows; towels; a desk lamp; laundry basket or hamper; alarm clock; cleaning supplies; toiletries; and room decorations. Your college’s residence life website will have a list of suggestions.

You may be able to coordinate with roommates for a television, mini-refrigerator, fan, book shelves and perhaps an area rug, small chair and other accessories.

Textbooks and supplies – As of July 1, a new federal law requires colleges to provide booklists for courses at the time of registration. This allows students to comparison shop at the bookstore, online or a book rental service.

There may be other expenses such as lab and computing fees, art or music supplies or other material fees depending on your academic program. Be sure to ask your advisor about first-year academic expenses.

Meal Plans – Meals can be the third highest expense at college, after tuition and room charges. Many colleges offer a variety of plans based on how much food you might eat in a week. Rather than opt for the most expensive plan with the most meals, review your eating habits and select a plan that will give you the most value for your money.

Many plans include "flex" money that can be used at different campus locations. Check the terms of the flex options and find out if unused meal money can be refunded or rolled over to another academic term. Knowing this may help you make the best selection for your budget.

After your first semester, you may want to reconsider meal plan options that may result in additional savings. Meal plan details are usually available on the dining and residence life pages of the college web site.

Computer – Most colleges have computers available for use by students in user rooms in the dorms, libraries and other campus locations, but you may still wish to have your own computer to use whenever and wherever you want.

Purchase a model that will be compatible with the systems used on campus. Some colleges have arrangements with computer vendors to sell equipment at a discounted, student rate through the bookstore or computing services, but shop around. If you plan to use a personal computer, you may need an Ethernet card and cable to connect to the college’s servers. You can save money and time by purchasing your cable locally or online before heading to campus.

Cable TV – Your TV set will most likely need cable service to work properly on campus and your college may or may not include local cable service with the room fee, so check ahead if having your own TV is a "must."

Entertainment – College life includes making new friends, socializing and going out for movies, pizza, concerts, participating in sports and other activities. Talk with your family about how much money to budget for weekly entertainment expenses.

Campus Cards for Miscellaneous Expenses – Students and families should budget an amount of money that will be available for use on a monthly or semester basis to cover miscellaneous expenses.

Laundry, photocopying, vending machine purchases and other incidentals can add up quickly and you may be able to pre-pay these expenses by securing a campus card that works like a debit card.

Many campus cards may also be used off-campus at local fast-food restaurants and other businesses. Check the terms of the campus card and find out whether unused funds can be refunded or carried over to the next academic term.

Planning ahead and preparing for these additional college expenses over the summer will help you start the new fall term on the right track. – Courtesy of the HESC


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