The Ultimate College Tuition Guide: Deciphering Your Bill

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Deciphering your college bill can be a daunting process. You will need to understand the cost of tuition, financial aid, loans and extra costs that come with college life. Despite that, it is possible for every student to get a handle on their college finances and succeed in this area.

Here is the ultimate guide you need for your college tuition and college costs.

What is in my college bill?

What's in my college bill infographic

Your college bill includes several items. The main ones to look out for are:

  • Tuition
  • Fees
  • Health Insurance
  • Room and Board

Here’s a quick breakdown of those items. 

Tuition is the sum you pay to a university or college for their teaching services.  

Fees are costs outside tuition that go towards paying for other aspects of college life. What exactly these fees go towards varies by university, but they could be used to pay for parking, facilities, ground maintenance, technology, libraries, enrollment fees, and more. 

Health Insurance fees go towards your healthcare coverage. The majority of universities in the United States require students to have some type of healthcare coverage. If you are still covered by your family insurance plan or have your own healthcare insurance you may be able to waive this fee. 

Room and Board fees pay for the room and facilities you’ll be staying in if you choose to live on campus. Think of it like rent. This fee typically covers your living space and a meal plan. 

Meal plan fees go towards paying for your school meals or cafeteria services. If you choose to live on campus, this item will most likely be on your bill. If you are a commuter student, you might also have a meal plan included in your bill for the times you are on campus taking classes. This fee may be included with the room and board costs, or it may be shown as a separate item. 

When do I have to pay my bill? Do I have to pay it in full?

You can expect to receive your bill around every July or August if you are starting school in the fall. Typically the costs are divided into two bills — one for each semester of the academic year. However, most schools offer you a payment plan, making it possible for you to divide your costs into multiple payments throughout the semester.

Each bill will give you the cost for the upcoming semester. A pay-as-you-go plan allows you to stretch out your payments over that semester. Depending on the payment plan you have, the school will tell you the dates your payments are due. 

If, for some reason, you cannot pay the bill by the allotted date, be sure to speak to the financial office at your school to see what solutions they can provide for you. Letting them know of your situation is better than letting the due date pass and getting caught up with late fees. 

How do I pay my bill?

You can pay your tuition bill in various ways. Most students do not pay their tuition bill in full by their own means. Instead, they opt for methods like scholarships, grants, loans and financial aid. These options lower the average cost of tuition and make it easier for you to pay for college. Financial aid is available for both public and private higher education. Be sure to research the types of aid offered by your university as well as by government, nonprofit, and private institutions. You may qualify for an academic or athletic scholarship, a pell grant, or another type of aid.

Your school will have more information on the types of financial aid that exist to pay your bill as well as scholarships that are offered. Once those aids are sorted out they will be applied to your account. After that, your school will send you the balance due should there be any. 

What questions should I ask my financial aid officer?

It can often be daunting having to talk to a financial aid officer as you may not even know what kinds of questions to ask. Here are some helpful ones that you can ask in your next meeting to make sure that all of your bases are covered:

10 Questions to Ask Your Financial Aid Officer

  1. Do you offer payment plans? If so, which ones?
  2. What is the maximum or minimum amount of payments I can make?
  3. How much will I pay for each installment of the plan?
  4. Is there a fee to enroll in the payment plan? If so, what is it?
  5. Are there additional fees I should know about?
  6. Is the payment plan only for tuition, or does it apply to other costs?
  7. What are the due dates for payment?
  8. What are the penalties for not paying my bill on time?
  9. Can I cancel my payment plan if additional funds become available, or can I pay more than my installment should that happen?
  10. What are the main methods through which I can make my payments (credit card, wire transfer, etc)?

What else should I know regarding payment?

One thing to consider when paying your tuition is that most universities will not allow you to sign up for classes until all your outstanding payments are made. 

Since classes fill up quickly, be sure to make those payments well in advance so you can get into the classes you want. 

Another important step to take when you receive your bill is to check it for accuracy. 

Make sure that all the information in your bill is correct. Check for: 

  • Your name and address
  • Your enrollment status (are you part-time or full-time, graduate or undergraduate, etc.)
  • Housing status (living on campus, off campus, etc.)
  • Residence status (are you attending a college in state or out of state)

Be sure to check if any balances are there that shouldn’t be there. Maybe a scholarship or grant you won hasn’t been applied to the bill. If you find any issues, contact your student finance office at your school as soon as possible. 

What are some other costs besides tuition and housing?

When planning financially for your educational journey it’s important to take into account costs outside tuition and housing. Here are some items that you may also need to save for:

  • Technology such as computers, ipads, or other essential devices for your field of study. 
  • Transportation costs like gas, car insurance, public transportation cards and fees.
  • Books and school supplies for your courses. 
  • Miscellaneous spending like eating out with your friends or for off-campus life. 
  • Personal items like bedding, hygiene products, clothing, and other personal expenses. 

PLNU’s office of Student Financial Services (SFS) is a great resource for prospective students’ financial needs. Their goal is to make college as affordable as possible no matter where you are in your educational journey. Feel free to get in touch with Student Financial Services so you can have all your questions answered regarding your bill. 

The SFS website offers you all the ways and methods through which you can apply for aid and scholarships, as well as other tuition and cost information like important dates and deadlines.

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Contact Student Financial Services