The estimated one year expenses listed on your financial aid offer are likely listed as “Cost of Attendance” and the Cost of Attendance could be a detailed section or a single line item on your financial aid letter. It’s critical to examine this section carefully and ask yourself, “What isn’t being included?” If the CoA section is detailed, the most common included items are tuition, fees, room, and board (for dorms). If the Cost of Attendance section isn’t detailed, we recommend looking on the college’s website as this information is publicly available.
But wait, there are other expenses to consider. Will you be living in a dorm, at home, or paying rent? Do you need to purchase a laptop or furniture? Will you be using public transportation or driving? How much will your textbooks cost each semester? What’s your monthly budget for groceries and takeout? It’s important to factor these costs into your Cost of Attendance. When building your spreadsheet, we recommend making a line for each of these costs. After all, paying for rent and public transportation in Portland is cheaper than doing the same in New York City — and there is no need to book a flight home from Portland.
The Expected Family Contribution number may look familiar. Colleges use the FAFSA (and sometimes CSS profile) to determine your EFC. The EFC listed on your aid offer is not necessarily what you are being asked to pay — this is simply the number that colleges use to determine your financial need and any need-based financial aid.
The Net Cost may not be included on your offer letter, but simply put:
Net Cost = Cost of Attendance – Financial Aid (scholarships, grants, loans, etc.)
In short, the net cost is the amount of money you and your family are expected to pay for the year. If the net cost is included on your offer letter, remember to adjust it based on the additional estimated expenses discussed above.