Financial Aid Award Letter: What is Your COA or Cost of Attendance

This article is the first part of our financial aid award letter series.  We hope to help parents and students understand the cost or budget that the school has created for them.   Depending on the school, this can vary greatly. 

Cost of attendance or COA is the amount every college creates as the average cost for a student to attend that institution for a full academic year.  The cost of attendance includes tuition, room, board, fees, books, transportation and personal expenses.   The COA is an important number since it is the starting point of your financial aid award.  The COA is subtracted from the EFC to determine your financial need at a college.  This can be a point of appeal if you can prove that your cost of attendance is significantly different from the schools average.

The total cost of attendance is not all paid to the college since it includes books, travel and personal living expenses.  This can work to your advantage since these costs will be controlled by you and can be managed better than a tuition fee.

The two most common personal expenses that may vary for a student is a student’s  travel costs and personal spending  A personal COA can be created for each college a student is considering.  Keep in mind that personal living expense may be a highly variable amount based on where you attend college.  As an example, the cost of doing things in New York City will be much higher that a rural college town in most states.  One cost that is not included is the cost of parents travel or multiple trips back home.  This should be considered in your calculation of attending a certain college.  It can add up to thousands each year.

The cost of attendance is adjusted each year by the college to reflect changes in the cost of living and changes in tuition.   The cost for state colleges will also reflect a different cost since there are the in-state resident and the non-resident student tuition cost.

If you are trying to create a four-year financial plan, housing at large states school varies.  Many only offer housing for a limited number of semesters.  Investigating off campus living is recommended if you are planning to attend a large university.

One cost that is not included is the cost of parents travel or multiple trips back home.  This should be consider in your calculation of attending a certain college.  It can add up to thousands each year.

Knowing your cost of attendance is critical to determining the amount of aid your received and how that may change over the upcoming year in many cases.

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