DEFINITION of Cost Of Attendance

Cost of attendance (COA) is the figure provided by colleges and/or college financial offices that estimates the total costs of attending that particular school for a period of one year. Included in the estimate are all reasonable expenses such as tuition, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses and transportation.

BREAKING DOWN Cost Of Attendance

The cost of attendance is an important factor in determining student financial aid. The expected family contribution (EFC) is subtracted from the cost of attendance to determine the calculated financial need. Since college costs include many expenses beyond tuition, the cost of attendance figure can help families budget for all of the expenses. In certain instances, the cost of tuition can be as little as 50% of the total costs per year for attending a college or university.

If the expected family contribution and financial aid package fail to meet the cost of attendance, the student and his or her family can explore alternative student loans, specialized loans that are intended to fill the gap between traditional financial aid and need.

According to College Data, universities and college will often offer several COAs that differ depending on the circumstances. For example, if a student lives on- or off-campus and out-of-state vs. in-state tuition. Keep in mind, the final bill might be higher than the official COA presented to you, as the COA often depends on the travel expenses, the choice of major, and extracurricular activities. 

Cost of Attendance and Net Price

It is important to remember that the final figure for college or university is the net price not the cost of attendance. The net price encompasses all personal and work study earnings, the amount of money that the college finance department expects for you and your family to pay, and any financial need unmet by the college or university.