Cost of Attendance (COA)

Topic Progress:

Cost of Attendance. It's more than you might think.

COA is the amount it will cost you to go to a particular school for one academic year, and the COA will differ for each school you apply to. A school’s COA is what that school’s Financial Aid Office will consider when it’s determining how much financial aid they’ll offer you.

Unfortunately the school doesn’t take into consideration the hidden costs of attending the school when they calculate your financial need, so you’ll need to figure out these hidden costs as well if you want to get a fairly accurate number as to the actual “Cost of Attendance” for a school you’re interested in.

Ok, here goes….

School & Hidden COA

Each school or college you’re applying to calculates its portion of the COA for an academic school year with the assumption that you’ll be attending that school at least half-time; some schools even have an estimated COA on their website if you do some searching around their site. 

You should be able to find it on a school’s “Tuition & Fees” page and it might look something like this chart from the University of Massachusetts Lowell:

As we mentioned each school’s COA is obviously going to be different.

Unfortunately, none of the schools you apply to will include the hidden costs of attending that school; you’ll have to figure that out on your own.

To calculate a more realistic estimate of what your COA is, total the School Specific and Hidden Expenses listed below which apply to you. You’re probably not going to know the exact numbers for each item, but an estimate should give you a good idea of what you’d be looking at as a realistic cost of attendance.

School Specific Expenses

Likely included in the school’s calculation of COA.

  • Tuition
  • Operating Fees
  • Housing On-Campus
  • Meal Plan On-Campus
  • Campus Technology Fee
  • Student Activity Fee

Hidden Expenses

Not typically included in a school’s COA.

  • Lab Fees
  • Sports Center Fee
  • Housing Off-Campus
  • Textbooks
  • Computer
  • Software & SW Licenses
  • Off-Campus Eats
  • Groceries
  • Commuting Fuel & Tolls
  • Commuting Bus or Train
  • Fraternities/Sororities
  • Major Specific Materials & Supplies
  • Property or Renter’s Insurance
  • Child Care

To Do...

Add up the “School Specific” and “Hidden” expenses that apply to you. That number will be your actual COA.  

Unfortunately, the schools you’re applying to won’t make their determination of the COA for your “financial need” based on all of that information… they’ll only consider those School Specific expenses such as tuition, housing, meal plans and some fees.

Despite that, you need to be realistic when you’re figuring out how much money it will cost to go to a particular school so be sure you take into account ALL of the expenses you might incur if you go there!

Track COA Expenses

  • Click the “Get the COA Worksheet Here” button below to access the Google sheet which can help you keep track of the expenses for each of the schools you’ll be applying to.
  • To add content to this Google Sheet you’ll need to make a copy of it and save that copy to your own computer, Google Drive or other cloud based storage.
  • The image below the button is a PDF version of the spreadhseet if you prefer that format.