Cost Of Attendance

What Is Cost of Attendance (COA)?

Cost of attendance (COA) is a college’s total estimated expenses for one year including tuition, room and board, books, supplies, transportation, loan fees, and miscellaneous expenses. A school’s cost of attendance is used to determine each student’s eligibility for financial aid such as grants and loans.


  • Cost of attendance (COA) is the average annual cost to attend a particular college or university.
  • It includes tuition and fees, room and board, books, supplies, and other expenses.
  • Cost of attendance is used to calculate how much financial aid a student is eligible for, based on the Expected Family Contribution from their FAFSA.
  • Very few students pay the full cost of attendance because most receive some type of financial aid.

Understanding Cost of Attendance

Federal law and regulation define the expenses that colleges must include in calculating cost of attendance.1 Most colleges publish those costs on their websites and elsewhere. That makes it relatively easy for students and parents to compare and understand costs.

Bear in mind that cost of attendance represents the “sticker price” of the college, and many students ultimately pay less.

Many schools calculate and publish more than one cost of attendance, based on the circumstances of their students. For undergraduate students, there may be different COAs for those who live on campus or off campus, or commute from home. Graduate and professional students may have different COAs due to the various programs along with students who take online courses.

Some colleges also break their COAs down into billable, or direct, charges (such as tuition and room and board) and indirect expenses that a student would pay for separately (such as transportation or meals off campus).  Cost of attendance is a critical number for students and parents who use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

In deciding how much financial aid, if any, to offer a student, colleges subtract that student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) from the school’s cost of attendance. The EFC is determined by the information the student and their parents provide when they filled out the FAFSA. It is the government’s estimate of what the family might reasonably be expected to pay for a year of college, based on its income, assets, and other factors. The number is used to identify the amount of financial aid that a student is qualified to receive.

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will be renamed the Student Aid Index (SAI) in July 2023. It does not indicate how much the student must pay the college. It is used to calculate how much student aid the applicant is eligible to receive. This is a nationwide based formula.

Can I Borrow More Than the Cost of Attendance?

Federal loans and other financial aid can’t exceed the college’s cost of attendance minus the family’s EFC. The office of Federal Student Aid gives the example of a student whose college has a COA of $16,000 and whose EFC is $12,000. The student would be eligible for a maximum of $4,000 in need-based federal aid, such as subsidized loans or Pell Grants. Similarly, a student whose college has a COA of $16,000 and has received $4,000 in need-based aid and private scholarships would be eligible for a maximum of $12,000 in non-need-based aid, such as unsubsidized student loans and PLUS loans for parents.

What’s Included in a Cost of Attendance Calculation?

Under federal law, cost of attendance includes most of the essential expenses you’ll pay to complete your degree, such as:

  • Tuition. Tuition helps the school pay for faculty salaries and wages, administrative staff, financial aid, instructional equipment and the buildings you attend class in. It’s considered a direct cost because you pay it directly to the school.
  • Fees. Fees are another direct cost. Mandatory fees to enroll may include orientation fees, student activity fees, residence hall activity fees, health insurance and technology fees. Student services fee can cover costs related to students’ physical and mental health and well-being, social and cultural activities and programs, educational and career support services and services related to campus life and campus community.
  • Room (housing). This fee usually refers to the cost of living in an on-campus dorm. Schools also will provide an estimated housing cost to live in an off-campus apartment.
  • Board (food). Colleges often require students who live in dorms to purchase a meal plan. However, schools usually have several meal plans. The plan you choose could be more or less expensive than the one used to calculate the cost of attendance.
  • Books. You’ll need textbooks, regular books and course readers—a selection of copyrighted class material collated into an electronic or print booklet—while earning your degree. Costs vary by major and by where you get your books. Buying used or renting can save money. E-books may be cheaper than physical books.
  • Supplies. Depending on your curriculum, you may need to buy special supplies. If you’re an architecture student, for example, you might have to buy sketchbooks, pencils, balsa wood, chipboard and adhesives.
  • Equipment. Schools allow for the cost to buy or rent one computer to use while earning your degree.
  • Transportation. Your cost to travel to and from home and school can vary a lot depending on how close to school you live and how often you go home to visit your family and friends. Are you commuting daily? Taking classes remote or online?
  • Personal expenses. Personal expenses are an example of indirect costs: You incur them during school, but you don’t pay them to the school. This cost also varies depending on how much you decide to spend on discretionary items like social activities, personal care items, haircuts, streaming services, clothing, shoes, laundry and anything else you need or want.
  • Student loan fees. Lenders sometimes call these origination fees or disbursement fees.
  • Study abroad fees. Reasonable costs associated with for-credit study abroad are part of the cost of attendance for students who participate in these programs.
  • Dependent care. This expense is part of the cost of attendance for students who need dependent care so they can attend classes. For aid purposes, the cost is based on the number and age of dependents, typical care costs in the community and the number of hours of care required. Those hours include time while the student is commuting, studying, doing field work or doing an internship, in addition to class time.
  • Disability accommodation. Students who need special transportation, equipment, services, assistance or supplies will have these expenses included in their cost of attendance.

Cost of Attendance Vs. Tuition

Tuition is nothing more than the cost of your classes. Cost of attendance covers everything the typical student needs to attend college. And it’s just an estimate.

Cost of Attendance Vs. Net Price

Net price is a school’s cost of attendance minus any financial aid you don’t have to repay: grants and scholarships. For many students, net price will be lower than the cost of attendance. You’ll pay the net price through savings, work and student loans. Your net price can change from year to year as both the school’s cost of attendance and your aid package changes as you must file a FAFSA annually.

COA – Grants, Scholarships and Tuition Waivers = Net Price

How Cost of Attendance Affects Student Loans and Financial Aid

Cost of attendance is directly related to financial aid and how much you can borrow in student loans. Subtract your expected family contribution (EFC) from the COA to determine how much you might receive in need-based financial aid and subsidized federal student loans that the government pays the interest on while you’re in school.

COA – EFC = Aid + Loans

If you still don’t have enough money to pay for school after financial aid and subsidized loans, your options include:

  • Taking out unsubsidized federal student loans (interest accumulates while you’re in school)
  • Applying for private student loans, which a parent may need to co-sign with you
  • Asking your parents to take out federal PLUS loans.

Cost of Attendance Examples

How much does it cost to attend Pacific College of Health Sciences

  • Tuition: Based upon program
  • Registration Fee:
  • Additional Fees: Based upon program
  • Technology fees: $15 on ground $75 on line-(assessed each term)
  • Administrative Fee: $40 (one time)
  • Student ID fee: $15 (one time)
  • Student Council fee: $10 (assessed each term)
  • Housing: (off campus) $23,143 (NY) ( varies by state)
  • Books and supplies:
  • Transportation:
  • Personal expenses: