What Is Cost of Attendance?

When considering the financial aspects of your college education, one of the key figures to take into account is the cost of attendance, or COA.

Understanding the cost of attendance is crucial when planning how to finance your college experience. But what exactly does “cost of attendance” mean?

The cost of attendance refers to the estimated total expenses associated with attending college for an entire academic year. This encompasses various components such as tuition, room and board, textbooks, supplies, transportation, and other miscellaneous expenses.

Essentially, it represents the comprehensive “sticker price” of pursuing higher education at a particular institution.

It’s important to note that the cost of attendance is calculated before factoring in any financial aid, grants, or scholarships. Even if a college seems financially daunting at first glance, it’s worth considering all available avenues for financial assistance before ruling it out as an option.

Also Read Federal SEOG Grants: Eligibility and Award Amounts for 2023-2024

From an Admissions Professional

When considering financial aid options, one common mistake students make is allowing the initial “sticker price” of a school to deter them from applying. It’s crucial to remember that the true affordability of a college education often becomes clearer only after receiving and reviewing your financial aid offer.

If you’re drawn to a particular school, it’s worth applying regardless of its initial cost. By applying and subsequently evaluating your financial aid package, you may discover that the school is indeed within your financial reach. Conversely, you might find that it’s not the best fit financially. However, without giving it a chance, you deprive yourself of the opportunity to explore all available options.

How does the cost of attendance influence my financial aid?

The cost of attendance (COA) plays a pivotal role in determining your financial aid package. Alongside the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which signifies the amount your family can contribute to your education, the COA sets the stage for your financial aid eligibility. The EFC is calculated based on information provided in the FAFSA or CSS Profile.

Once your college assesses your family’s contribution, they strive to bridge the gap between the COA and your EFC through various financial aid avenues. This may include need-based grants like Pell Grants and Federal SEOG Grants, federal work-study programs, student loans, and merit-based scholarships.

Moreover, students can explore additional options such as private scholarships to further address the disparity between the COA and EFC. By leveraging these opportunities, you can better manage the financial aspects of your education.

See Aslo Pell Grant Eligibility: Do You Qualify? A Comprehensive Guide

Fluctuations in Cost of Attendance Over Time

It’s crucial to recognize that the cost of attendance (COA) isn’t static; it can fluctuate from year to year as colleges adjust their budgets. This dynamic nature of COA is significant, especially considering that undergraduate education typically spans four years. Additionally, these adjustments may not only encompass changes in tuition but also alterations in expenses related to room and board. Hence, it’s essential to anticipate potential increases in COA throughout your college journey.

Alternative Financing Options When Colleges Don’t Meet Your Need

In instances where the financial aid package falls short of bridging the gap between the cost of attendance and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), exploring alternative financing avenues becomes imperative. Here are some options to consider:

Parent PLUS Loans

Parent PLUS loans offer parents a means to borrow funds to cover their children’s college expenses. These loans function similarly to traditional student loans but often come with higher interest rates.

Private Student Loans

If you’ve exhausted federal loan options such as unsubsidized and subsidized direct loans, private student loans could be worth exploring. While they shouldn’t be the primary choice due to potentially less favorable terms, they can serve as a last resort when other options are unavailable.

Income Share Agreements (ISAs)

Income share agreements represent an innovative financing option where a school covers your education costs in exchange for a percentage of your future income. However, it’s crucial to carefully evaluate the terms and potential implications before committing to an ISA.

Before pursuing any of these alternatives, it’s essential to thoroughly assess their drawbacks and implications. Exploring all available options and seeking advice from financial aid professionals can help you make informed decisions regarding additional financing.

Where to Access Cost of Attendance Information for Specific Schools

For accurate and detailed information regarding the cost of attendance at specific colleges, we advise students to visit the financial aid section of the respective college’s official website. Many colleges provide comprehensive details about their cost of attendance, including tuition, fees, room and board, books, supplies, transportation, and other miscellaneous expenses.

To get a rough estimate of the financial aid package you might receive, you can utilize the Net Price Calculator available on most college websites. This tool helps estimate both need-based and, in some cases, merit-based financial aid awards based on your family’s financial situation.

While understanding the cost of attendance is essential, it’s crucial to remember that it’s just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to assessing the total expenses associated with your college education. Other factors, such as available scholarships, grants, and financial aid opportunities, also play a significant role in determining the actual cost you’ll incur.


Understanding the cost of attendance is a crucial step in planning for your college education. By knowing the estimated expenses associated with attending a specific college, you can make informed decisions about your financial options and prepare accordingly. Remember to explore all available resources, including the college’s financial aid website and the Net Price Calculator, to get a comprehensive understanding of the financial landscape. With careful planning and research, you can navigate the costs of college and make the most of available financial aid opportunities.