What is Room and Board? Full Guide With Costs, Pros & Cons, Tips

room and board costs

What is Room and Board? Full Guide With Costs, Pros & Cons, Tips

Published on July 20, 2023

room and board costs

When preparing for college, one of the essential aspects to consider is room and board. But what exactly does room and board entail? And how do you choose your best option? This article will explore everything you should know to make a good decision. 

What is Room and Board?

“Room and board” refers to the cost of housing and meals provided by the college or university during the academic year. It is a comprehensive fee that covers both accommodation and food expenses. 

Here’s the breakdown:

  • “Room” is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the cost of a college student’s dorm room, as well as the expense the university takes to maintain the functionality of the dorm buildings and suites. These living spaces generally come furnished with a desk, bed, dresser/wardrobe, and potentially other small pieces of furniture. Most colleges also provide amenities, and the room will cover indirect costs such as wi-fi and water.
  • “Board” refers to a student’s meal plan. Students are given a card to swipe at campus cafeterias, providing them access to 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. 

The Bigger Picture of College Costs

When you’re looking at how much it costs to send your child to college, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the added charges on the tuition bill.

Not only will you be factoring in attendance charges from the institution itself, but you’ll also have to consider additional costs such as textbooks, transportation, and other expenses.

As you break down the direct cost of admission, questions about room and board fees will likely arise. 

How Much Does Room and Board Cost?

The average cost of college room and board in the U.S. is $12,000 to $14,000, according to recent research. Each college has a different process for calculating the cost of room and board, and private colleges tend to be more expensive the public ones.

The price per year or semester will depend on certain factors. Students can choose to live in a private room or with roommates, and different housing options across the campus will have different rates.

College costs for “board” are also flexible based on student options.

Colleges may offer different meal payment plan options based on the number of swipes at the dining hall or available days on campus. It’s important to consider this when figuring out whether your student will need to pursue financial aid or a student loan.

Students who attend a private university tend to pay more for room and board. The Education Data Initiative estimates that the average cost of attendance (including tuition and additional fees) for a 4-year public institution is $25,487 for an in-state student and $43,161 for out-of-state—compared to $53,217 for a 4-year private non-profit institution and $35,125 for a private for-profit.  A scholarship can help offset these costs to reduce the amount of student loan debt.

The price of room and board often depends on 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.

Are Room and Board Required?

Sometimes. For example, some colleges require students to live and eat on campus for their freshman year to familiarize them with the campus and engage in social activities.

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

Many room and board policies have been under debate as universities decide how to incorporate remote learning and digital classrooms. During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, some universities offered student account refunds for room and board costs when students were sent home.

Factors That Affect the Cost of Room and Board

Several factors can impact the cost of room and board. These include location, housing type, meal plan and amenities.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Location: Colleges in metropolitan areas or regions with a high cost of living tend to have higher room and board expenses than those in smaller towns or rural areas.
  • Type of Housing: Different housing options come with varying price tags. For instance, dormitories may be more affordable than off-campus apartments or private housing.
  • Meal Plan: The specific meal plan you choose can affect the cost. Meal plans offering more weekly meals or additional dining hall credits tend to be more expensive.
  • Amenities and Services: Some housing options provide additional amenities like air conditioning, laundry facilities, or cleaning services, which can contribute to higher costs.

How to Save Money on Room and Board

While room and board expenses are a necessary part of college life, there are several strategies you can employ to save money in this area. These include financial aid, scholarships, room sharing, and cooking for yourself.

Consider the following tips to save money on college room and board:

  • Apply for Financial Aid: Many colleges and universities offer need-based or merit-based financial aid, which can help offset the cost of room and board. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and explore other scholarship opportunities to maximize your financial aid options.
  • Look for Scholarships: Research and apply for scholarships covering housing and meal expenses. Various scholarships are available for different backgrounds, majors, or academic achievements.
  • Live Off-Campus: Living off-campus can sometimes be more affordable than on-campus housing. Renting an apartment with roommates or finding shared housing in the surrounding community can save you money. However, consider additional costs like utilities, transportation, and meal preparation.
  • Share a Room: If you opt for on-campus housing, consider sharing a room with a roommate. Sharing expenses can significantly reduce the overall cost of room and board.
  • Cook Your Meals: While a meal plan is convenient, it can also be expensive. If permitted, consider preparing your meals to save money. Cooking meals in a shared kitchen or utilizing community cooking spaces can be cost-effective.

By implementing these money-saving tips, you can reduce the financial burden of room and board expenses while still enjoying a comfortable living and dining experience.

Pros and Cons of Room and Board

Before deciding on room and board, it’s important to consider the pros and cons. Pros include convenience and social opportunities, while cons include higher costs and a lack of privacy. 

Pros of Room and Board

  • Convenience: Living on campus provides easy access to classes, libraries, and campus resources. It eliminates the need for daily commuting and allows for greater involvement in campus activities.
  • Community and Social Opportunities: On-campus housing often fosters a sense of community and provides opportunities for making friends and engaging in social activities. Living among fellow students can lead to valuable connections and a vibrant college experience.
  • Support and Resources: Colleges typically offer support services and resources tailored to the needs of on-campus residents. These may include resident advisors, maintenance staff, study groups, and academic support centers.

Cons of Room and Board

  • Cost: As discussed earlier, room and board expenses can be a significant financial burden. For students on a tight budget, these costs may outweigh the advantages of on-campus living.
  • Lack of Privacy: Sharing living spaces with roommates or residing in close quarters in dormitories may result in a lack of privacy. This can be challenging for students who value personal space or require a quieter environment.
  • Limited Flexibility: On-campus housing often comes with specific rules and regulations, including curfews, guest policies, and restrictions on the personalization of living spaces. This lack of flexibility may not suit everyone’s preferences or lifestyle choices.

Tips for Choosing Room and Board

When selecting your room and board options, consider the following tips to make an informed decision: Consider your budget. Think about your lifestyle. Do your research, including campus tours.

Here are the details:

  • Consider Your Budget: Evaluate your financial situation and determine how much you can allocate to room and board expenses. Be realistic about your financial limitations and explore housing options that align with your budget.
  • Think About Your Lifestyle: Consider your personal preferences and lifestyle when choosing between different housing options. Reflect on factors such as noise tolerance, need for privacy, and preferred living environment to ensure you select accommodation that suits your needs.
  • Research Different Housing Options: Thoroughly research the various housing options your college or university offers. Consider factors such as location, amenities, proximity to campus facilities, and the overall environment to find the best fit for your needs.
  • Visit the Campus and See the Different Housing Options: Whenever possible, visit the campus and take advantage of open house events or tours to view the different housing options firsthand. This will give you a better sense of each housing option’s facilities, room sizes, and overall atmosphere.

How Do I Budget for Room and Board?

The way colleges break down their costs (per academic year or credit hour) is not always clear, and parents 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 they present to students, but this can either represent the on-campus room and board cost or the average cost a student would spend if they were cooking for themselves or living in an apartment.

Although cooking and living independently may be cheaper, they may not offer the same consistent value a school’s room and board guarantees.

If needed, students can use financial aid, such as loans, scholarship awards, or grant money, to help pay room and board fees.

Once it’s clear how your child’s individual college handles room and board, your student can then make plans for their fall and spring semesters at that school. 

Dorm Room Advice From Parents

After the financial details of room and board are out of the way, the social and “comfort” aspects of residence life can be considered.

Assuming your student can choose their residence hall and dorm room, advice from other families who have gone through the process can be helpful. Many of the parents in our Paying For College 101 Facebook group were eager to share their tips:

“If you Google school and 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 and ask (your dorm questions) on that.” — Jennifer

Knowing what room and board are is half the battle. Once you learn how your child’s school calculates room and board, you can begin to budget accordingly—or calculate whether living off-campus (if possible) would be more cost-effective.

– Writer Liam Gaughan contributed to this article.


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

What Is the Big Ten and What Does a Big Ten School Mean?

Common Data Set Ultimate Guide: Use It to Find the Right College

The Common Black College Application Lowers Costs and Stress




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