Ray’s Take: As if college tuition – and books – weren’t expensive enough, there’s also the cost of housing for your college student. Unlike the other two, however, this is one area where you can possibly have a little control over how much money is spent.
Many colleges offer various dorm options these days. The old complaints about lack of privacy and shared bathrooms aren’t necessarily valid – depending on how much you’re willing to pay. Dorms still provide less privacy and more distractions, however. That’s why some students opt to switch to housing off campus – and position it as a money saver.
When that happens, sit down with your student and do the math together. It isn’t just the cost of an apartment versus a dorm room, there are a lot of other factors to consider as well.
Campus housing usually includes utilities, high-speed Internet, cleaning services, basic furnishings, the option of a meal plan that offers a balanced diet, a built-in support system through resident assistants, and eliminates the need for transportation to and from campus. These are all expenses that will add to the cost of off-campus living. Plus, the student will have to do all his own cooking and cleaning. Is it ultimately worth it?
Some parents think they can largely offset college housing costs by buying a condo or house and then selling it when their child is through school. If they’re really lucky, this might work out. However, when you consider the short duration of ownership, wear-and-tear, and associated costs like taxes, insurance and local oversight, the odds are against them.
Do the math, and think through the social and college-experience aspects, too. There is no one right option, but there is a better one for your child.
Dana’s Take: Imagine a student having to get to an 8 a.m. class in 30-degree weather. As hard as it is for a student to get him or herself up in the morning at all, it is important to remove as many obstacles to class attendance as possible.
Students living off-campus may have to drive to campus, park on the outskirts of campus, and then walk to class.
University housing is nearly always a short walk to class, thus improving the odds of the student arriving to class to learn.
Might the parent or student save money by renting off-campus housing? Yes. The risk is that the off-campus student may miss more classes, resulting in a lower overall return on the education investment.
No one knows your college student better than you. If your child craves independent housing, make sure he or she has the tools and discipline to make it work financially, socially and academically. Otherwise the costs could be severe.
Ray Brandon is a certified financial planner and CEO of Brandon Financial Planning (www.brandonplanning.com). His wife, Dana, has a bachelor’s degree in finance and is a licensed clinical social worker. Contact Ray Brandon at firstname.lastname@example.org.