Navigating College Financials (Part 1: Tuition Bill)
Your acceptance letter has finally arrived. The thrill and exhilaration of knowing that you’ll be heading off on a new adventure is still thrumming through your bloodstream. Then reality sets in, how are you going to pay for college? An even bigger reality settles when you finally receive your first tuition bill in the mail.
I’ve been there, I’ve already graduated from undergrad, went on to law school, and am currently enrolled in graduate school. I’m no stranger to this process, not anymore. I remember the day my first tuition bill came in the mail. I opened the letter, still giddy to be receiving any mail from my university, and stared, dumbfounded by what I was looking at. There were columns and rows with information that I didn’t comprehend.
If you’re feeling confused or concerned about your tuition bill, trust me, you aren’t alone. Financing for college causes a lot of anxiety and stress, but it doesn’t have to. The first step towards tackling that anxiety and unease is to understand your tuition bill. There are usually quite a few fees involved, and not all of them are necessary. Learning how to read and understand the entire document is going to save you a lot of stress (and hopefully some money) in the long run.
The biggest thing to remember is that your tuition statement is for the upcoming semester only! It does not list out your fees for the year! The normal billing cycle for schools is a bill for the fall semester and then a bill for the spring semester. If you take summer classes, those will be billed separately as well.
Your tuition bill should have your first and last legal name and your mailing address. Now if you’re living on campus it should not have your campus address. Your legal mailing address while you’re in school is typically still your parents’ address (or whatever address you were living at when you applied to college). Double-checking this on each tuition statement is important. If you aren’t getting your statements and you aren’t paying your tuition on time, you’ll wrack up some serious late fees. Avoid this by confirming your name and address are correct on each tuition statement that you receive.
The tuition bill should also have your Student ID or Account Number listed at the top. This is also important to note. When I was an undergraduate, there was another Sarah Baker, she was a year behind me and had a different middle initial. It could have been very easy for my university to accidentally send me her bill instead of my own. If your school has long ID or Account numbers, I recommend memorizing at least the last four (4) digits.
The next item included on a tuition bill is the date the statement was issued and the date the tuition is due by. Highlight this section. Many times, if the university doesn’t give you a specific due date, it will say, “due within thirty (30) days after issuance.” You might think that you have thirty (30) days from the time that you receive the bill, but often that is not the case. Make sure that you pay close attention to the issue date and the due date.
Tallied at the bottom of the tuition bill will typically be the total amount due. This number usually takes into consideration scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid that you have been given for the semester.
The most confusing aspect of the tuition bill is the itemized section. This section lists each item they are billing you for. The vast majority of universities and colleges will put this in a box or table. It will tell you what semester you’re currently paying for, and then it will start to list out all of the things that go into making up your grand total for the semester.
- Semester Class Fees— Every college or university charges by the credit (or course hour) of each class. Most undergraduate classes are at least three (3) credits. The college or university will add up the total amount of credits and then calculate your total cost for classes for the semester.
- Registration Fees— Some colleges or universities, but not all, will charge you a fee to register for classes. This is a fee that is on top of your semester class fee. Typically it is not much, compared to your class fee, and you may not need to pay these fees. For example, if you are suffering from financial hardship, your college or university might waive the fee so you can continue to take courses.
- Room and Board Fee— If you are staying on campus, as opposed to commuting, there will be an additional fee for the dormitory that you’re staying in. The Room and Board fee typically includes things like heat, electricity, hot water, etc. These are items that you would normally be paying extra for if you were to rent an apartment near campus. The amount might go up each year that you attend, which is also similar to paying rent on an apartment.
- Class Dues— I haven’t found a way out of paying for these in a tuition bill; colleges and universities make you pay these for the year upfront. The good thing is that you typically see these on your fall semester bill and not your spring or summer bills. This fee is fairly low and goes towards the various functions that the school puts on for students throughout the year.
- Undergraduate Activity Fees— This is easy to confuse with class dues. However, they’re completely separate beasts. These fees aren’t for social events like class dues, instead, they’re for things like clubs or sports. Even if you don’t plan on joining any, you have to pay this fee.
These are the top five (5) fees that pop up on tuition bills. All except for the class fees and room and board fees, you might be able to not pay if you go to your student aid department and request a financial hardship accommodation. It’s extremely important to note that this is difficult to prove. Your parents’ financials are taken into consideration, whether they are assisting you with college or not.
Head to the Leadovate website to find out the answers to the following:
- What fees on here cover the entire year and which only cover the current semester?
- If I do not plan to enroll in any school groups do I still need to pay the activities fee?
- Is there a way to waive any of the additional fees on my bill? If so, what documentation do I need?
- Can you break down the itemization list for me? I want to fully understand what I am paying for.
Always go to your student aid department with questions big or small. It is their job to answer them for you and to help you better prepare to pay for college. I didn’t ask enough questions while I was attending undergraduate school and it’s come back to bite me. Ask questions, be better informed, and make sound financial decisions. College is a huge financial commitment, making sure you understand exactly where your money is going is important.