Cost of attendance

Cost of attendance (COA) is an estimate of the total amount of money it should cost most students at a specific institution to attend one year of school. The yearly COA is determined by each school’s financial aid office (FAO) and may be referred to as the financial aid budget. It usually includes:

  • Tuition and fees. 
  • Books and supplies.
  • Room and board.
  • Transportation.
  • Personal expenses.
  • Medical insurance.
  • Dental instrument rentals and purchases.

To find the COA for the school or program you plan to attend, contact the FAO directly or check the school website. 

Look at your annual COA and determine what you may have some control over (for example, living, transportation and personal expenses) compared with what you do not have any control over (for example, tuition and fees), and focus on these items when looking for ways to reduce your cost. To help determine your monthly budget, take the total annual amount of those items under your control (living, transportation and personal expenses) and divide that by the number of months in your financial aid budget (should be between nine and 12 months, check with your FAO). This will give you an estimated monthly financial aid budget. Try to live under this budgeted amount, because even though you can borrow up to the COA less other aid, that doesn’t mean you have to.

Ways to control and reduce costs

  • Control what you can in your COA, but don’t be overly concerned about items you have no control over, like tuition and fees.
  • Don’t assume you need the entire amount of money in your financial aid budget, especially since borrowing “up to budget” may be with the more expensive direct PLUS (formerly known as Grad PLUS) loan.
  • You can always borrow additional money during the academic year (up to your total COA), so consider borrowing less to start with and see how that works within your budget. This can save you money since interest accrues on the amount disbursed, and delaying disbursement a bit can help limit the amount of interest accrual during school.
  • Talk with family members (parents, spouse or your partner) about paying interest on some of your loans during school, because direct unsubsidized and direct PLUS loans start to accrue interest as soon as they are disbursed.
  • Consider service commitment scholarship programs like the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and the armed forces, or programs that may be offered through your state.