Your College Budget
Your college budget should include, travel, tuition, accommodations, books, entertainment and other expenses. Will you be staying on campus or off-campus? If you are staying on campus, you should note that most universities require students staying on campus to participate in their meal plan. Find out the cost of accommodations and investigate the cost of meal plans and see if they are mandatory. Also factor in health care or student health care insurance plans – are they mandatory? Will your existing health care insurance provide sufficient coverage in the new location?
If you are not staying on campus, but will be renting an apartment, what is the monthly rent? Shop around to find the best offer out there. Calculate what the total rent will be per semester. Getting a roommate helps cut down on costs. To cut down on costs you may opt to participate in or become a residential assistant (RA) where you oversee a floor or group in your campus residence in exchange for free or reduced room and board. Most RA positions, however, are only offered to students in their third or fourth year of university.
Estimate what you will spend on a weekly basis for groceries and other household necessities. Include estimated costs for moving into the off campus apartment also. Is the apartment already furnished or do you have to furnish it? These are important things to consider. Are you required to pay utilities or are they covered in the rent? What about laundry services? All these should be factored into your budget.
You should prepare your budget bearing schooling and living expenses in mind, below are some key areas to consider:
In most countries undergraduate and graduate tuition differ and vary from school to school. For example, in the United States, undergraduate tuition depends on whether you are an in-state, out-of-state, or international student. Tuition for an in-state student tends to be lower than that for an in-state student, which is typically lower than that for an international student. In the United Kingdom, tuition is based on whether you are a UK citizen or not. Most schools offer payment plans with two to four installments. The first installment usually has to be paid before the end of the first week of classes.
Some schools with the help of the government offer financial aid to students. In order to be considered for financial aid, all you have to do is apply. For US students, your first step is to apply through FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). For students in the UK you apply through the school. By applying for financial aid, you can get scholarships, grants or loans through the government, your school, an organization or a private institution.
Getting a scholarship can help to defray some of your college expenses. You may be eligible for one or more of the numerous scholarships available to college students. If you excel academically or athletically, you may qualify for a merit based scholarship. You may also qualify for other scholarships based on need, your chosen career or specific to the college you are attending. Research and apply early to meet the qualifying deadlines.
Grants are small amounts of money that don’t have to be repaid. In the US, grants given by the government are called, Pell Grants.
You can qualify for a loan on your own by going directly to a bank or you can go through the government. In the US, after your FAFSA is completed and accepted by both the government and your school, you will be offered subsidized and un-subsidized loans to pay for tuition and other school related expenses. You can accept some or the entire amounts of the loans. Most loans don’t have to be repaid until after graduation. Subsidized loans are loans where the interest is subsidized (paid for) by the government until you graduate. Unsubsidized loans have interest accruing from the moment the loan is disbursed.
Buying books will take a major chunk out of your college budget. Bear in mind that some books can be bought online at cheap prices. Check with your professors to see how old of an edition will be accepted. Also, most university bookstores sell used books. Early shoppers tend to take advantage of these offers. As soon as the booklist is available, check out whether used books are available and compare prices with some online stores. Often, used books online are less expensive than ones from the university’s bookstore, although at the university bookstore you can preview the condition of the book before purchasing. When purchasing a used book online, stick to reliable sites.
Although there should be less moving in costs for on campus accommodations than off campus, you should still consider the cost of purchases that will help you feel comfortable in your new surroundings. This is not limited to, but can include the purchase of a television, hotplate or mini-refrigerator. Be sure to check with Campus Housing to see what’s allowed and what’s prohibited. Before you purchase any of these things, also check to see if your roommate has any and will be willing to share. Most college dorms are too small for two TVs. If you have a room to yourself, remember to spend frugally and only buy what you can afford in your budget. Chances are you won’t be spending that much time in the dorm, so stick with the bare minimum; don’t outfit your dorm like an HGTV dream home.
Start off with the school’s recommended meal plan; you can always change it during the semester if it is too much or too little. Also include in your budget shopping at the supermarket for snacks and other foods that may not be part of the school’s meal plan.
Moving from the BVI to a non-tropical climate will most likely require purchasing clothes for the various seasons. Buy fall, winter and spring clothes that are durable and can last you for a couple of years rather than what’s in fashion. Look for sales and shop at discount stores that usually offer brand name clothing at lower costs.
Most dorms come equipped with phone lines that allow you to call free on campus or within certain calling areas. Research the best cell phone plan that allows you the maximum data and calling plan at the lowest costs. Calls to the BVI are expensive from overseas, so get Skype or another online provider to call home for free or at a discounted cost.
You need to have insurance in order to attend a university. College insurances have just gone up in the US and are now very expensive. Compare and contrast costs and services before you purchase an insurance plan.
College campuses are filled with all types of entertainment to make your experience enjoyable. Be active on campus! Get on your student boards which plan the school’s events - this helps with free and discounted prices for events. Although extra-curricular activities are a great part of your college experience, remember you are there (and money has been paid) to study and get a degree, so getting good grades should be your first priority. As caution, unlike in the BVI, the legal drinking age in the United States is 21 years old.
Include expenses in your budget for any excursions off-campus and for basic travel. Will you be returning home for the holidays or travelling elsewhere? Flights home during holidays or breaks should also be factored in. Book early as airfares during some holidays can be exorbitant.
For some schools, the laundry facilities are free, but others charge the typical costs.
Nowhere are credit card offers more common and enticing than on college campuses. Don’t be enticed to sign up for a credit card, however, just to get a free T-shirt, coffee mug or a CD. Beware of the credit card trap; once you get one, you may be tempted to spend more than you can afford. Be responsible by not signing up for cards you don’t need. If you do get one, keep it out of reach to use only for emergencies (an emergency is not getting a new pair of pants to go to the night club). Always pay your outstanding balances in full and on time to avoid high interest rates and late fees.
Unlike living on campus, accommodation off campus usually requires that you pay monthly rent and utilities. You may need to purchase a few more things off campus than on campus; for example, you may need to purchase kitchen equipment to prepare your own meals. You will also need to shop for more groceries if you opt out of the school’s meal plan.
Transportation to campus should be a part of your budget (if you are not within walking distance of the campus). Most schools provide free shuttle services for students within a certain radius of campus.