Room and board at colleges and universities nationwide is awfully expensive, in the range of 8,145 to $11,745 per year, according to data from the College Board.
So what’s a student to do to slash some of these costs – especially when you’re already struggling to pay for tuition and fees, books and supplies, as well as other college-related expenses?
Here are 3 do’s and don’ts to save money on college room and board, as highlighted in my book, College Secrets.
Forgo All-You-Can-Eat Meal Plans
Besides the cost of living in a dorm or campus apartment, you’ll also have to pay for food. No one can study effectively on an empty stomach, right?
Well, you definitely want to be well fed and nourished when you’re a college student. But you don’t have to go to two opposite extremes either: gorging yourself just because food is available or wasting money paying for food you’ll never eat.
Either problem can occur for students who have “all you can eat” meal plans.
You’ve heard of that expression: “the freshman 15,” right? It refers to the 15 pounds that students often gain during their first year of college.
Some weight gain could just be from hitting the books so much that students stop being as active as they were in high school, when mandatory physical education classes were the norm.
But some students may see weight creep because they’re eating a lot of junk food, or they’re simply eating too much.
All-you-can-eat or “unlimited” meal plans may encourage constant snacking and over-indulgence. Why stop at three meals a day and snacks, when you can go on some campuses for a 24-hour pizza run, and it’s “free” as part of your meal plan?
Do you get my point?
Health issues aside, many students find that once they get into the rhythm of college life, they simply don’t eat three meals and multiple snacks each day.
Some are just fine to eat a late breakfast and an early dinner. Others meter out meals based on their sleeping schedule and class load.
Whatever the case, know that many schools offer mid-range eating plans — such as 14 to 20 meals per week. For a lot of students, this is just fine in an average 7-day period.
For those who actually find themselves hungry later, they can always bump up their meal plans. But it’s best to start off conservatively, save money, and see what the student’s eating habits truly entail.
Don’t Forget to Strive for Housing Scholarships
Another way to slash your housing expenses is to strive for housing scholarships.
The way you do this, quite simply, is by being the very best student you can possibly be.
Earning a housing scholarship usually requires excellence, and many colleges and universities award free housing on a very competitive basis.
Take Morehead State University, in Morehead, KY, for instance. The university grants about 100 full tuition and university housing scholarships each year via its Presidential Scholarship Program.
The awards go primarily to National Merit Scholars, Semi-Finalists and Finalists, valedictorians, as well as high-performing students with top grades and stellar standardized test scores.
Any school you’re considering that offers merit aid may also provide housing scholarships. They award these sought-after funds to the very best students who apply.
To find such a housing scholarship, do some online research for the college or university you’re interested in or are already attending.
Many schools use similar names to describe their top academic awards, including those with full tuition and housing allowances.
Among these awards are: “Presidential Scholarships” “University Scholarships” “Chancellor’s Scholarships” “Regents Scholarships” “Dean’s Scholarships” and “Founders Scholarships.”
If you nab a full ride scholarship — one that covers tuition, fees, room and board — all your worries about those upfront college expenses will likely melt away.
Consider Becoming a Resident Advisor
Resident advisers are students who live and work in dormitories and other campus-based housing complexes.
An “R.A.,” as they’re called, works by helping other students deal with a number of issues. An R.A. could be called upon to help settle a roommate dispute, to open a locked door for a student who forgot his room key, or to arrange events in the common spaces of the dorm.
Most R.A.s are juniors and seniors in college, though some are sophomores or even graduate students. Freshmen don’t serve as R.A.s for obvious reasons — they’re newbies who are just getting to know a campus.
But after you’ve been around a school for a year or longer, it’s worth considering becoming an R.A.
Not only will you get to know most students in your housing unit — or at least on your floor — you’ll also get to save money on housing expenses. That’s because an R.A. typically receives either free room and board, or a housing allowance to partially cover room charges.
At least one of these three strategies is bound to work for you when it comes to cutting room and board expenses at your college or university. In fact, if you use multiple strategies in combination, you’ll save even more cash year after year.