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The Real Cost of College: 4 Things Students & Families Need to Consider

As families continue on the journey of preparing for college, understanding the full scope of expenses involved is really important for effective planning. While tuition (the price of taking classes) often takes center stage in financial preparations, other costs can impact a family's budget.

Room & Board

For many students, college marks the first experience of living away from home. Indiana estimates put this at about 40% of the total price you’ll pay for college—a HUGE portion! Whether on-campus or off-campus, housing and meal plans are substantial expenses. On-campus housing can simplify budgeting with fixed costs, but exploring off-campus options might offer savings, especially in areas with lower cost of living. The average cost of room and board at Indiana colleges hovers right around $12,000 per year.

Books & Supplies

Course materials and supplies can also add up. While textbooks are the primary concern, many courses require specialized software, lab equipment, or art supplies. Renting textbooks, opting for digital editions, or buying used books can help manage these costs. You may even be able to find free PDFs of an older textbook version that haven’t changed much over time, and finding a buddy to share books with can help as well.


Whether it's flying back home for the holidays, daily commutes, or just getting around campus, transportation costs can't be overlooked. For students attending college out of state, these expenses can become a significant part of their budget. Don’t forget car insurance, gas money, and a parking pass. These things aren’t cheap!

Personal Expenses

Personal expenses, including laundry, cell phone bills, toiletries, and “fun” activities can vary widely among students. Setting a realistic monthly budget for these costs is essential to avoid overspending. Education trips like studying abroad, trips (and equipment) for athletes, and sorority/fraternity expenses add up.

College is expensive. According to the State of Indiana, tuition (the school part) is about 40% of total costs—with the other 60% made up of housing, books and supplies, transportation, and personal expenses. Families should consider each of these costs! Student debt significantly impacts life after graduation, and doing things during college to minimize debt tends to have major impacts for students in the future. Let’s start the conversation early, plan with precision, and create a path for a financially secure college experience.

Want some support planning for college expenses within your personalized budget? Our Youth & College Team is happy to help! Contact us for more info or to schedule a time to chat!

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