College is expensive no matter how you slice it, but one price that is rarely included in college marketing materials is the local cost of living. The cost of living of the area around where you are thinking of attending school could easily save – or cost – thousands of extra dollars.
Consider cost of housing
Housing costs are often one of the most expensive costs of living in a particular area, taking between 30 and 60 percent of average income in an area. Most colleges and universities have college housing of some kind, which comes with its own expenses. Many students choose to live off-campus at some point during their college career, and the costs of those off-campus accommodations should be considered very carefully. Smaller or mid-sized cities tend to have housing costs that are lower, while larger cities often cost much more. Even though your tuition may be $5,000 per year less at a big-city school, an apartment that costs an additional $400 to $600 per month will quickly add up to being more expensive.
Transportation is a huge cost
Housing and transportation are two costs that are very closely related. The theory of “drive until you qualify” is one that said that housing expenses don’t matter, because you can drive until you can find a house that is within your price range. You can follow this theory with college transportation, but the reality is that transportation is often a very high expense. If you attend college in an area without a developed public transportation system, then you will be spending more on transportation. Take a very close look at how “walkable” a neighborhood is, and consider what getting to and from your classes, your meetings and your eventual job or internship will take. If you have public transportation available, then you will likely spend much less than if you have to drive, unless you live on-campus.
Food and Entertainment
Going to college means you will have a variety of free entertainment options available to you, from free concerts to free movies and even reduced-cost movies or activities. Most colleges and universities also require that you have some kind of dining plan when you live on-campus. On-campus dining quality can vary, but it is worth carefully considering what you may spend on groceries if you do not have that meal plan. Different cities have very different food costs. If you eat only seafood and require it to be fresh, then a college in the Midwest could end up costing you a significant amount in food costs.