What Is Room and Board?

room and board costs

When looking at the finances of sending your child to college, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the added charges and fees that show up on the tuition bill.

Not only will you be factoring in the charges from the institution itself, but you’ll have to consider additional factors like textbooks, transportation, and other living expenses.

As you begin to break down the cost of admission, it’s understandable that questions about room and board will arise.

This is simply the cost that the university takes for the housing and meal plan it provides to students.

We looked at room and board from all angles, and explain the nuances here…

What Is the Difference Between Room and Board?

“Room” is exactly what it sounds like; this is the cost for a student’s dorm room, as well as the cost the university takes to maintain the functionality of the dorm buildings and suites.

These living spaces generally come furnished with a desk, bed, and other small pieces of furniture. Most colleges also provide amenities, and the room will cover wi-fi and water costs.

“Board” refers to a student’s meal plan; students are given a card to swipe at campus cafeterias that give them access for meals. Some colleges give a set number of meals, while others are unlimited, and different meal plans offer five- or seven-day availability based on the student’s commuter status. 

How Much Does Room and Board Cost?

Each college has a different process for room and board, but the price will depend on certain factors. Students can choose to live in a private suite or with roommates, and different housing options across the campus will provide different rates.

Board costs are also flexible based on student options.

Colleges may offer different meal plan options based on the number of swipes or available days on campus.

Students at private universities tend to pay more for room and board; CNN estimates that the average room and board costs are $8,060 for community colleges, $10,440 for public universities, and $11,890 for private schools.

Quite often the price of room and board is based on  “location, location, location.”

That is, students attending schools in large urban areas are more likely to pay higher housing rates than those in out-of-the way, rural areas.

For example, Penn State University’s $35,000 tuition pales compared to $62,000 at Columbia.

Are Room and Board Required?

It’s not unheard of for a college to require students to live and eat on campus for their freshman year in order to get them familiarized with the campus and engaged in social activities.

Some campuses have even extended that requirement to sophomore and junior years. There are also various exceptions for students who commute or attend the university part time.

Many room and board policies are currently under debate as universities decide how to incorporate remote learning and digital classrooms. Some universities have offered refunds for room and board costs when students were sent home.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Room and Board?

Generally the cost of room and board is higher than the average cost of a student cooking for themselves and living in an apartment. However, the flat predetermined rate of the college’s room and board may be appealing to students who want to calculate their expenses in advance.

Living on campus also provides the advantage of being close to classes and campus activities. Students who are anxious about being in a new environment may enjoy living with fellow students who are in the same situation, and may be more inclined to become involved with clubs and study groups.

Not only will living on campus cut down any commuting time, but it will also save on utilities like laundry and internet.

For an additional charge, some schools even provide a cleaning staff, which would certainly be appealing to any student who is not too keen on tidying up their space.

Good research is important here as well. When considering a college, take a look at the percentage of students who live on campus versus those who commute, and take a look at what resources the campus offers.

How Do I Budget for Room and Board?

The way colleges break down their costs is not always clear, and parents can sometimes wonder whether room and board are included as part of the tuition “package”  The answer is yes, sort of.

College tuition calculators will factor  the cost of room and board into the average rates that they present to students, but this can either represent the on-campus room and board cost, or the average cost that a student would spend if they were cooking for themselves or living in an apartment.

Although cooking and living independently may be cheaper, it will not offer the same consistent value that a school’s room and board will guarantee.

Students can also use loans, scholarships, or grant money, if needed, to help pay the cost of room and board fees.

Once it’s clear how room and board are handled by your child’s individual college, your student can then make plans for their future at that school.

Dorm Room Advice From Parents…

Once the financial aspects of Room and Board are out of the way, the social and “comfort” aspects can be considered.

Assuming that your student has the opportunity to choose their own dorm and dorm room, advice can be helpful.Many of the parents in our Paying For College 101 Facebook group were eager to offer advice on that subject:

“If you google school & dorm names, you’ll find YouTube student videos with their commentary.” — Jo Ann

“Don’t pick a room near the stairwell. Door banging all night long.” –Barbara

“Sounds silly but consider which direction the windows face, if there will be good natural sunlight. Sophomore year at college my window faced into a building courtyard where all the sunlight was blocked and it was really dreary.” –Jennifer

“Join their parent page & ask (your dorm questions) on that.” –Jennifer







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This story first appeared as a post in our Paying for College 101 FB Group. It’s been edited for clarity

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