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What Is Room and Board for College?

When students think about the total cost of attending college, they sometimes forget that college is not one lump sum. Instead, there are different costs that make up the total cost of attendance. Tuition, room, and board are the three primary costs that students will come across when paying for college.

You might be wondering, what exactly am I paying for?

This is a good question, and important to understand. Tuition is pretty straightforward and refers to the cost of instruction. This can range from $10,000 per year for in-state public universities to almost $40,000 per year for private universities.

Room and board is a bit more misunderstood, so in this post we will discuss what room and board entails, what it might cost you, and how you pay for it. We will also discuss how you can save money on both your room fees and your board fees.

Don’t miss: How to save money on housing

What exactly is room and board?

If you have ever looked up what a college costs, you probably see a line item for “room and board.” But what exactly are you paying for as part of this fee?

Very simply, room and board refers to lodging and meals. After all, when you are attending college as a boarder, you will need a place to stay and food to eat.

For many students, room will include a campus dorm room. This is usually equipped with a bed and a desk. Students may have the option of having their own room, but will generally have a roommate (or two).

Board generally entails dining through a “meal plan.” Students can select a meal plan that gives them access to various on-campus dining options.

What does room and board cost?

The cost of room and board will vary from college to college, but the average cost of room and board was $11,500 for public institutions and $13,000 for private institutions.

Related: Where can I find student rent assistance?

How will I pay for room and board?

Room and board fees can be paid for through all types of financial aid, including scholarships, need-based grants, and student loans.

Can I save money on room and board?

Yes, you can! This is one of the prime areas where students can save serious amounts of money. Here are a few ways you save money (and even get your room fee completely covered):

Also see: How to save money in college

Always have a roommate

Generally, colleges charge more money for students who choose to live in a single room. Having a roommate (or two) on campus helps save you some money.

Get a smaller meal plan

Colleges give students the option to choose among several different meal plans. For example, an unlimited meal plan is going to be more expensive than a meal plan that gives you two meals a day. Think about your habits and pick a plan that makes sense.

Live at home

Commuting to college can be a great way to save money on meals and lodging. This may not be for everyone and not all colleges will offer this option, but you can save serious money. Remember, you may also be able to live at home for a year or two before moving on campus or getting your own place.

Get a job as a Resident Advisor

Working as a Resident Advisor or RA can be a great move for students who want to save money! At some colleges, RAs receive free or discounted housing, which can be a great way to save money. Some colleges may also offer an additional paid stipend for students who serve as RAs.

However, this varies from college to college and you will need to check-in with your college for details on how RAs are compensated. 

Choose an alternative living option

Some colleges may offer alternative living options for students, including cooperative housing. These options allow student to live on-campus, but generally allow the residents of the co-op or house to be responsible for cooking their own meals. For example, the University of Florida’s Cooperative Living Organization allows students to share living, cooking, and maintenance expenses. 

Frequently asked questions about room and board

Can scholarships cover room and board?

Every scholarship has its own terms and conditions, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. However, many scholarships do come with the option to cover room and board. Pell Grant funds can be used to cover tuition or room and board, so if your tuition is entirely paid for and you earn a scholarship, you can always shift Pell Grant funds to pay for housing and put your scholarship towards tuition. 

Do I have to pay room and board if I live at home?

Good news – you don’t have to pay room and board if you live at home! Although some colleges will offer you the opportunity to pay a fee to get on their meal plan, it is almost never required. So, you’ll end up saving a lot of money by living at home – probably upwards of $10,000 per year.

How can I calculate room and board?

If you receive room and board from your college, the cost will be listed on their website. However, if you are taking care of your own housing and/or food situation, you’ll have to do some research and estimation.

A good first step is to look into the typical rent in the area surrounding your campus. Your college might also be able to put you in touch with students who take care of their own housing.

The same goes for food; you can start budgeting your current food budget, and then look at the cost of living in the area surrounding your campus. If you’re moving from Ohio to New York, expect to pay more than you currently pay. But if you are moving to a place with a comparable cost of living, it will probably be similar.

Does room and board include food?

Room and board does include food – room refers to the cost of your housing and board refers to the cost of your meal plan. Some colleges always package these two together, while others may allow you to only accept room or only accept board. In these cases, you would be responsible for finding your own housing or preparing your own food.