Average College Student Spending


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Report Highlights

  • On average, the cost for college is about $35,720 per year.
  • A full-time community college student spends around $1,760 per year on transportation alone.
  • Students spend roughly $413 per academic year on college course materials.
  • The total estimated cost of living per year for students, including food, housing, clothing, phone plan, miscellaneous, etc., is around $14,435.
  • 83% of undergraduate college students own at least one credit card.
  • The student loan debt, on average, is $37,584.
  • On average, college students borrow over $30,000 annually to attend school.
  • About 34% of students borrow money to attend college.

Tuition Costs

In the last 20 years, the cost of tuition has tripled with a yearly growth rate of 6.8%.

average student spending

The cost of college varies based on the cost of tuition, fees, room and board, books, and supplies. Also, the tuition expense varies whether the student attends an in-state or out-of-state college.

Public Institutions

Institution-Type Cost of Tuition Additional Expenses Cost of Attendance
4-year $9,580 (In-State) $16,284 $25,864
4-year $27,437 (Out-of-State) $16,284 $43,721
2-year $3,372 (In-State) $12,665 $16,037

Private Institutions

Institution-Type Cost of Tuition Additional Expenses Cost of Attendance
4-year $37,200 (Nonprofit) $16,749 $53,949
4-year $13,475 (For-profit) $21,073 $34,548
2-year $17,294 (Nonprofit) $17,262 $34,556
2-year $15,974 (For-profit) $13,984 $29,958

Cost of Room and Board

Not all students will live on campus. However, for college students that do live outside of their parent’s or guardian’s home, the cost of room and board depends on whether they live on or off-campus.

  • The cost of room and board ranges from $10,216 to $11,945 for public 4-year institutions.
  • Off-campus students in these 4-year institutions pay about $10,781, and on-campus students pay $11,451.
  • For private nonprofit institutions, students who live on campus pay $12,682 per year, and off-campus students spend $9,762.
  • For private for-profit colleges, off-campus costs on average $8,027, and on-campus costs $10,654.
  • For public 2-year institutions, students who live on campus pay about $7,165, and off-campus students pay $9,316.
  • For nonprofit 2-year institutions, students living on-campus pay about $11,723, and off-campus boarders pay roughly $9,429 annually.
  • On-campus boarders pay about $10,639, and off-campus borders spend about $9,222 for private, for-profit institutions.

Course Material Average Spending

College students have spent less on textbooks and digital course materials over the years. Students now have more available options to purchase course material such as print or digital material and choose to rent or purchase them. The choice to rent and use digital material has likely caused a sudden decrease in college course material compared to years prior.

  • At 4-year public institutions, college students pay roughly $1,334 yearly on books and supplies.
  • For private, nonprofit institutions, students pay about $1,308.
  • For private for-profit institutions, students pay about $1,194 for books and supplies.
  • At 2-year public institutions, students pay $1,585 annually on average for books and supplies.
  • Students pay $1,061 on average at private nonprofit institutions, and for 2-year for-profit colleges, students pay about $1,393.

Average Additional Costs

Other student living expenses must also be accounted for, such as personal care, transportation, and entertainment. These numbers will vary yearly due to the local economy and the student’s housing status.

  • At 4-year institutions, additional expenses range from $3,201 to $4,471.
  • Students living on campus in these 4-year institutions pay about $3,493 in additional expenses, and students living off-campus (who don’t live with family members) pay about $4,253 in additional costs.
  • For private nonprofit 4-year institutions, students living on campus pay $2,758 on average for additional expenses.
  • Students living off-campus (who live alone without family members) in these same institutions pay $5,527, while students living off-campus with family members spend $4,236.
  • For private for-profit institutions, students living on campus spend $4,748 annually or additional expenses.
  • In these same institutions, off-campus students spend $4,254, and students living off-campus with their families pay about $4,497.

Average Cost of Lost Income

Many students don’t consider the potential lost income or opportunity cost of working rather than attending school. However, school is costly, and therefore, students should understand the risk and rewards to both sides.

  • For high school graduates, the average weekly income is $763, and the annual income is $39,676.
  • Almost 50% of college students can’t afford to buy balanced meals.
  • Four years after students receive their high school diploma, they earn roughly $158,704 or $108649 annually after taxes.
  • 56% of students nationwide experience housing insecurity, and 45% of students have food insecurity.
  • 44% of students attending 4-year institutions worry about running out of food, and 50% of students have the same worry from 2-year institutions.

Non-Academic Costs in California

Beyond just the tuition and fees, students will have expenses with their housing, food, books and supplies, and personal expenses. These were some of the findings specifically from the 2018 to 2019 edition of the Student Expenses and Resource Survey (SEARS) conducted by the California Student Aid Commission. This survey sampled 150,000 college students in California from varying regions, ages, and races/ethnicity.

  • Students in California spend about $2,020 per month or $18,180 annually per nine-month academic year for expenses outside of tuition.
  • 64% of respondents viewed the cost of college and balancing school and work responsibilities as the biggest obstacle to succeeding in college.
  • 35% of college students are insecure about whether they can afford to house, and 35% of students are insecure about affording food throughout the academic year.
  • 38% of students disagreed that they have the necessary financial resources to afford tuition and fees.
  • 35% didn’t believe they had enough for books and supplies, and 30% for housing and utilities.
  • Students pay about $753 per month for housing in the central valley region and $1,178 per month in San Mateo and San Francisco counties.
  • 47% of black college students indicated a high level of housing insecurity and 54% for food insecurity.

Health Insurance Rates

Below are the following insurance plan rates for students attending MIT. The table indicated the cost difference between 2015 to 2016.

MIT College Student Insurance Plan Rates

Type< 2015 2016 Annual Net Change
Student $2,568 $2,268 $300
Student and Spouse $3,972 $3,504 $468
Student and Dependent $2,784 $2,460 $324
Student, Partner, and Dependent $4,188 $3,696 $492

Private Full-Breakdown of All College Student Expenses

The University of Chicago is a private 4-year institution that released its estimated cost of attendance for 2021 to 2022. This includes direct expenses such as tuition, fees, and health insurance. In addition, there are indirect expenses like food, rent, supplies, books, transportation, and miscellaneous costs.

Categories 1 Academic Year Three Quarters Two Quarters One Quarter
Books and Supplies $2,380 $1,785 $1,190 $595
Room and Board $23,040 $17,280 $11,520 $5,760
Graduate Student Services Fee $1,664 $1,248 $832 $416
Personal/Miscellaneous $4,200 $3,150 $2,100 $1,050
Transportation $3,540 $2,655 $1,770 $885
Estimated Loan Fees $1,560 $1,170 $780 $390
Estimated Health Insurance $4,566 $4,556 $3,044 $1,522
Total Living Expenses and Fees $40,950 $32,487 $21,652 $10,618

Full Breakdown of 4-year Public Institution Costs

The University of Washington is a popular 4-year public institution, and they released their estimated student budget for 2021 to 2022 9-month academic year (October thru June). This includes everything such as living expenses, books, tuition, and rent. These numbers give a snapshot of what a student’s cost of living is, and tuition is, broken down by each category.

Undergraduate Students

Budget Items Living with Parents/Relative Living on/off campus Students with dependents
Textbooks & course supplies $900 $900 $900
Rent, utilities & food $4,725 $14,871 $18,402
Personal & miscellaneous $2,316 $2,316 $2,316
Transportation $687 $471 $1,320
Resident Tuition $11,745 $11,745 $11,745
Resident Total Costs $20,373 $30,303 $34,683
Non-Resident Tuition $39,114 $39,114 $39,114
Non-Resident Total Costs $47,742 $57,672 $62,052

Graduate Students

Budget items Live with parents/relative Graduate/professional
Textbooks & course supplies $825 $825
Rent, utilities & food $4,752 $18,402
Personal & miscellaneous $2,316 $2,316
Transportation $1,320 $1,320
Resident Tuition $17,394 $17,394
Resident Total Costs $26,607 $40,257
Non-Resident Tuition $30,294 $30,294
Non-Resident Total Costs $39,507 $53,157

College Students and Credit Cards

Students who own credit cards have been the highest to date and appear to use them more frequently. Credit cards are one factor, along with education loans, that demonstrate the amount of money borrowed for students to fund their tuition and cost of living.

  • 54% of freshmen college students carry a credit card
  • The median debt for undergraduates carrying credit cards is about $1,770
  • The average credit card balance for students is $2,327
  • The median credit card balance for students is $1,770.
  • 21% of undergraduates who own credit cards have balances between $3,000 and $7,000
  • Graduate students have an average of $20,402 in combined debt, which lumps credit card balances and education loans together.
  • Students in midwest states carry the highest average credit card balances, while students living in the northeast carry the least.
  • Students triple the number of credits they own and double their average credit card debt when they arrive in college until graduation.
  • 6% of students have a credit card balance exceeding $7,000
  • Students across the U.S. own an average of 4.25 credit cards
  • 47% of students own four or more credit cards


  1. http://perspectives.acct.org/stories/transportation-costs-in-student-living-expenses
  2. https://educationdata.org/average-cost-of-college
  3. https://www.csac.ca.gov/sites/main/files/file-attachments/2018-19_student_expenses_and_resources_survey_web.pdf
  4. https://gsc.mit.edu/about-gsc/cost-of-living-analysis/
  5. https://financialaid.uchicago.edu/graduate/costs/cost-attendance
  6. https://www.westmont.edu/~phunter/ma5/eg/credit.pdf
  7. https://www.washington.edu/financialaid/getting-started/student-budgets/
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