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What Is Off-Campus Room And Board?

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For students living off campus it’s easy to spend more than you would if you live on campus. When living on campus, room and board refers to your basic living expenses. Your "room" is your dorm room or campus apartment and “board” is your campus meal plan. However, if you live off campus, your room and board expenses serve as an umbrella for a variety of costs.

Off-Campus Room and Board

Room: Rent, Utilities, and Personal Items

If you live in an on-campus dorm, expenses for your room are all inclusive. Dorms are furnished, and things like toilet paper may be stocked if your dorm has shared hallway bathrooms. When living off campus, you’ll need to budget for utilities, insurance, and personal items in addition to your monthly rent. Expenses for an off-campus room might including the following:

  • Application fee for the apartment

  • Monthly rent

  • Monthly utilities for water, electric, gas, trash

  • Internet and phone fees

  • Renter’s insurance (required in some areas)

  • Personal items, such as toilet paper and soap

Using Grants and Students Loans to Pay for Expenses

The good news is that you can use both federal student loans and grants to cover education costs. This can even include transportation, such as bus tickets or gas to get to and from school. After your tuition and fees are paid, you will receive a check with the remaining balance of your expenses for this year. The amount depends on what your university has designated for attendance cost, which includes transportation, personal expenses, books and supplies, housing, food, and in some cases computer, cell phone, or clothing costs.

While you can use your financial aid for personal expenses, you cannot use the remaining financial aid package to purchase a car, even a used car. In some cases, private student loans have more flexible terms and function as a sort of personal loan that can be used for such expenses. If your expenses exceed the university’s cost of attendance, you may need to take out a private student loan or personal loan.

Board: Meals and Snacks

Many schools allow you to purchase a meal plan even if you are living off campus. However, if you have time to cook, you can save a lot of money and choose much healthier options by purchasing your own food. As with paying for your utilities, the money for your meal plan will come out of what is designated for room and board. After receiving your financial aid check, you can use the money to purchase basic cooking supplies and groceries each week. Stores such as WalMart, Wayfair, and Target sell dorm kitchen kits featuring all the necessary cooking supplies you’ll need including pots, plates, cups, silverware, and spatulas for less than $100.

What if You Live with Your Parents?

If you live with parents, some schools may include housing or food in Cost of Attendance (COA), while others include nothing at all. In general, expect the room and board share of your COA to be much less than it would be if you live in an off-campus apartment. To find out estimated room and board costs for students living at home, check your university’s financial aid page.

What is the Average Cost of Off-Campus Room and Board?

The following are examples of the room and board and personal fees included in the cost of attendance for off-campus students. For off-campus students, many schools budget for a variety of fees including cell phone and computer charges, transportation, and even clothing. Some colleges further distinguish between students living off campus as in-state or out-of-state students. The following chart shows what an off-campus student may receive from their financial aid package after tuition and fees, books, and other school expenses are paid.

2018 - 2019 Room and Board + for Undergraduate Students Off-Campus


University of Florida

University of Illinois

University of California








Computer/Cell phone





















$14, 070

$14, 510


A Final Word on Room and Board Off-Campus

Before choosing a college, you can review the cost of attendance for previous academic years, including how much each school allows for off-campus students. You should also do research and talk to former students to calculate your cost of living. It’s essential to ensure that your cost of living doesn’t exceed university estimates to avoid going over budget.

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