What Is Cost Of Attendance?

Cost of attendance (COA) is the average annual total amount to attend a college or university. Included in the estimate are reasonably expected expenses, such as tuition, on-campus room and board, books, supplies, personal expenses, transportation, and expected financial aid. Estimating the cost of attendance is helpful to prospective students as they plan for their education. However, they should be aware that the COA typically differs per level of study (undergraduate, graduate, professional/doctorate) and enrollment status (e.g., part-time vs. full-time).

Key Takeaways

  • Cost of attendance (COA) is the average annual cost to attend a college or university.
  • The cost of attendance enables students and their families plan for their education.
  • Included in the cost of attendance are tuition and fees, on-campus room and board, books and supplies, other expenses, and expected financial aid.
  • The COA depends on enrollment status, the level of study, and other factors.
  • Congress, who first defined COA in 1972, stipulates how COA is calculated.

Understanding Cost Of Attendance

In 1972, the US Congress first defined the cost of attendance (COA) after the reorganization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965 created the Pell Grant. It was also the year that trade and vocational schools could receive federal aid, increasing the complexity of COA calculations. Four years later, Congress added federally-backed student loans into its calculation. Since, the use of COA calculations has changed, adopting changes related to financial aid, post-secondary education, and the Higher Education Act. Today, the COA is generally calculated as the total of tuition and fees and allowances for books, supplies, room and board, dependent care expenses, disability-related expenses, cooperative education program work, and loan origination fees. For students enrolled less than half-time, only tuition and fees and allowances for books, supplies, dependent care, and transportation are included. There are additional calculation rules for incarcerated students, students studying abroad, and more.

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, which are 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, the COA will differ for a student who lives on campus versus one that lives off-campus and the same for out-of-state vs. in-state tuition. Keep in mind, the final bill might be higher than the official COA.

Special Considerations

It is important to remember that the final figure from a 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 to pay based on your enrollment, and any financial need unmet by the college or university.