Updated on September 16th, 2021
When your child chooses a college, not all of the associated expenses are under their control. However, they can manage their student housing costs by making smart choices. But, there are more factors in play than you may realize, and there are a surprising number of options available.
To help your child navigate their student housing costs effectively, here’s what you need to know.
Student Housing Costs for Dorm Rooms
For many students who are heading away to college (or just want a certain level of independence), getting a dorm room seems like a great choice. One would assume that these are highly cost-effective, allowing students to keep their student housing costs low. Plus, many schools bundle in the cost of a meal plan, ensuring your child stays fed while they focus on their studies.
But, in some cases, the cost of room and board can actually exceed the amount of your student pays in tuition, essentially more than doubling their annual cost for going to college. And, if you aren’t prepared for that, it can be quite a shock.
For example, the folks at the College Board created a chart that shows the average cost of tuition and fees and room and board at various kinds of institutions for the 2017-2018 school year.
For a public four-year in-state student, the average price of tuition (with fees) is $9,970. The average student housing costs (with board)? $10,800!
Pretty startling, isn’t it?
Here’s a more specific example:
At Florida State University, where first-year students may pay as little as $5,990 for housing (for fall and spring semester only), but an unlimited meal plan adds another $3,998 for the same time period, bringing the total to $9,988 at a minimum.
What about Harvard? $9,894 is the student housing cost, and an additional $6,057 for meals, bringing the total to $15,951.
And, remember, those costs have to be paid for EVERY academic year – and this doesn’t cover summer months, of course.
However, it’s important to note that, depending on the location, the cost of room and board may be less expensive than trying to manage the price of off-campus housing, like an apartment. Additionally, the price is generally all-inclusive, so your student doesn’t have to worry about additional expenses like utilities and internet.
There also is, of course, the “dorm experience.” Many students learn a lot when living in a dorm, including how to compromise, problem solve and more. This is also typically where they make some of their closest friends during their first semester. Still, it’s important to consider all options, especially if it means no student loans for housing.
Did you know that some third-party scholarships can be used for housing?
Many times, scholarships are sent to the university and applied to the general bill. If housing and a meal plan is on that bill, and tuition is already covered, the scholarship dollars can be applied to the remaining balance for room and board. We cover exactly where to find these scholarships in our free online training. Want to learn more? Go to https://thescholarshipsystem.com/freewebinar.
1. Save with More Affordable On-Campus Housing Options
On-campus housing options typically vary in price depending on the dorm. To save money, your child can choose a more affordable dorm room. More affordable dorm rooms may be older, not as updated, or have a hall-style bathroom. Still, there are regulations that must be met so they aren’t unsafe in any way.
Students are often spending time outside of their dorm room anyway so if this means they can save a few thousand dollars, that may be worth it.
I personally lived in one of the “older dorms” and was completely fine. It saved us thousands of dollars and, funny enough, it made all of us spend more time together in the common areas instead of our rooms, building relationships instead of staying closed off.
One of the “cheaper dorms” is a great way to get the ‘dorm experience’ while saving thousands of dollars.
2. Save with Off-Campus Housing Options
Before your child decides to sign up for a dorm room, it’s important to explore other options, like off-campus apartments. If your child will be a freshman, their college may require them to live on-campus for their first year so you will want to verify off-campus housing is a viable option before spending time looking around.
Typically, the best way to do this is to research the area near your student’s selected school, as the price of housing varies dramatically throughout the country. Luckily, there are a lot of websites that can help your child do just that. Plus, online classifieds can provide a lot of insight.
However, when calculating their total student housing costs, your student will need to factor in other expenses that are typically included in the price of a dorm room, like utilities, internet, and even parking fees.
Plus, they’ll likely need to get renter’s insurance to protect their belongings while they are there.
In some cities, there are off-campus apartment buildings that actually cater to students, so the rental prices are typically selected based on the chance that your child won’t have a significant income. Additionally, they may offer leases designed to coincide with the school year, allowing your child to come home for the summer without having to necessarily maintain the apartment (though they can if they prefer not to move their stuff).
3. Save with Roommates
One of the most popular ways to keep student housing costs low for those who decide to get an apartment is to find a roommate or choose a dorm with a shared room. In some cases, this can make a larger or more well-appointed place more affordable, and gives them someone to split other costs, like utilities and food, with for additional savings.
If your child is going to the same college as a close friend, choosing to secure an apartment means they can guarantee that they are roommates, which can be a boon if your student is shy.
But having a roommate can be tricky, especially if they don’t see eye to eye on everything. Sometimes it can be better to room with someone new, as not to damage an existing friendship. Today, many colleges put a lot of effort behind ‘finding a good match’ including incorporating personality tests and lifestyle preferences in their decision-making process.
Overall, the more roommates, typically the lower the cost.
4. Keep Student Housing Costs Low by Living at Home
If your child is going to school near home, then the easiest way to keep student housing costs low is to avoid them entirely.
By living at home, your student doesn’t have to worry about paying rent, utilities, or even food costs, depending on whether you are open to shouldering that burden.
But, even if you want them to contribute, your child will likely spend significantly less that way than if they head out on their own. So, this is definitely an option worth exploring if you and your student are open to it.
How to Pay for Student Housing
Depending on which option your student selects, your child will likely have a few options for paying their student housing costs.
Like I mentioned earlier, in some cases, grants can be applied to room and board if they aren’t fully used for tuition and fees. The same applies to many scholarships, depending on how they are awarded, so securing extra funds above and beyond their tuition requirements can help them pay for their housing without the need for student loans.
Of course, student loans are an option, as well as paying in cash.
Ultimately, your child should evaluate all of their options, including what their grants or scholarships can or cannot be used for, and determine which route is the most cost-effective for them. In the end, any of the above choices could be the right move, so make sure they don’t limit themselves to just one as they start exploring.
If you and your child would like to learn more about how to get started with scholarships, including how scholarships can be used to manage student housing costs, sign up for our free college scholarship webinar! It’s a great way to learn about the process and how your student avoid debt while pursuing their education!