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What Is Cost of Attendance?
When you are thinking about how much you will need to pay for your college education, cost of attendance or COA is one of the big numbers you will want to consider.
Understanding cost of attendance is an important part of paying for college. Keep on reading to learn more about:
- What is cost of attendance?
- How does cost of attendance impact my financial aid?
- What if my college does not meet my demonstrated need?
- Where’s the best data for Cost of Attendance?
What is cost of attendance?
Cost of attendance is the estimated cost of attending college for an entire academic year including tuition, room and board, books, supplies, transportation, and other expenses. You can think about cost of attendance as the “sticker price” of a college education. Remember, the COA of a college is before any financial aid, grants, and/or scholarships have been applied. If your really want to attend a particular school, it is might still be worth applying even if you think it is out of financial reach.
Advice from an Admissions Professional
When it comes to financial aid, one of the biggest mistakes students make is not applying to a school based on the “sticker price.” If you like a school, apply. After applying and receiving your financial aid offer, you might find that it’s not a good financial fit for you. Or, you might find that it is. If you don’t try, you don’t give yourself the opportunity.
How does cost of attendance impact my financial aid?
Cost of attendance is one of the most important numbers that impacts your financial aid. The other important number is the EFC or Expected Contribution. The Expected Family Contribution is the amount of money that the school says your family can contribute to your education. EFC is determined by the FAFSA and for some schools, the CSS Profile.
Once a college understands how much money your family can contribute to your education, they may offer financial aid to make up the difference so that you can pay for the total cost of attendance.
The “gap” between the cost of attendance and your EFC might be filled by a variety of options including need-based grants (Pell Grants and Federal SEOG Grants), student loans, federal work-study, and merit-based scholarships.
Students can also apply to private scholarships to help fill this gap between COA and EFC.
Cost of attendance can change each year
Generally, the cost of attendance can rise each year as the college adjusts budgets. This is important to note, because you will be attending college for four years to receive a bachelor’s degree. This also does not include any potential increases in tuition, room, and board.
What if my college does not meet my demonstrated need?
If you receive your financial aid award letter and there is not enough financial aid to bridge the gap between the cost of attendance and EFC, you can consider alternative financing options such as the ones below!
Parent PLUS loans
Parent PLUS loans are a way for parents to take out loans in order to pay for their children’s college education. They work much like normal student loans, but tend to have higher interest rates.
Private student loans
After exploring unsubsidized and subsidized direct loans, you can start looking into private student loans. Private student loans shouldn’t be your first choice, but if you have exhausted all your other options, they may be worth looking into.
Income share agreements
Income share agreements are a way to have your school paid for, on the contingency that upon gaining a job in your desired field, part of your income will go to the institution who originally paid for your education.
Each of these options has drawbacks, so students should exhaust all of their options before taking on additional financing.
Where can I find cost of attendance info for specific schools?
We always recommend that students go straight to the source and consult with the individual college’s financial aid website. If you are looking to get an estimate of what a financial aid package might look like for your family, you can use the Net Price Calculator to estimate need-based (and in some cases merit-based) financial aid.
While cost of attendance is useful, it does not tell you the whole story about what your college education will cost.
Frequently asked questions about cost of attendance
Is cost of attendance accurate?
What are examples of cost of attendance?
Does FAFSA consider cost of living?