Fall term is all over, and people are going back to school for winter and spring. With a new school term comes questions about financial aid. While some people will be paying for their education out of pocket, millions of students will be financing their learning using financial aid, such as grants, scholarships, and loans. Some may see this as “free money”, especially grants and scholarships that you don’t need to pay back. However, financial aid funds should be used specifically for educational expenses. Now, it’s a lot easier to determine educational expenses when the money goes directly to your school; it’s usually automatically applied toward your tuition, student fees, educational materials, etc. But how do you determine it when the money comes straight to you? What is considered an “educational expense”?
- Tuition: If your funds were sent directly to you instead of the school, the first thing you should take care of is your tuition. Your tuition is the cost of your classes. This is more than likely going to be the biggest expense you have for school. Your tuition will be due before classes start, so be sure to pay them by the deadline, or you’ll risk getting your classes dropped.
- Books and Supplies: Books and supplies are required for every class, and are usually noted in the syllabus. There are required texts as well as optional ones, and while your school may make the materials available through your bookstore, that may not be the most frugal source. Shop around online and local bookstores to find the best deal for your books and supplies for each of your classes. Your financial aid can cover this surprisingly expensive part of your education. I once had to buy 2 textbooks for $315, and I couldn’t get it cheaper because they were new editions with DVDs. Plan ahead!
- Transportation and Travel: Are you commuting or generally need to get from point A to point B? It’s no secret that transportation costs aren’t cheap, especially due to gas prices. Whether you drive your own car, take the bus, ride the train or rent a ZipCar, your travel expenses can be covered using your financial aid.
- Room and Board: Certainly the second biggest expense of your college career will be your living situation. Room and board, whether on campus or off campus, can cost quite a bit of money. When you factor in rent, utilities, furnishings, and meal plans (if you’re staying on campus), room and board can cost you upward of $10,000 per year. Your financial aid can relieve you of this huge, but necessary expense. My advice is to live at home with your parents as long as you can and save that money. However, if that’s not an option, be sure to find the most affordable housing option available.
- Personal Expenses: So what doesn’t fall under tuition, books, transportation, and housing that is still considered an educational expense? Well, other things that are incorporated into your college experience. You’ll need clothes and shoes, you have to do your own laundry, or you may want to join organizations. After all of your major expenses are paid for when it comes to your classes and your living arrangements, get some lower priority expenses like new software or equipment.
What do you consider to be an educational expense?