Going to college can be very expensive, and it's not only because of tuition. In addition to paying the costs directly associated with earning the degree, students also have to come up with money for their basic living expenses while they are in school. Financial aid formulas and awards take living expenses into account when awarding grants, loans and other types of aid.
Cost of Attendance
After you apply for financial aid, the federal government and your college consider the full cost of attendance to help determine how much financial aid you receive. The cost of attendance not only includes the direct costs, such as the tuition and fees your school bills, but also the indirect costs. These are things that fall into the category of living expenses, such as housing, food, transportation to and from school, books, school supplies and a small allowance for personal expenses.
If your mandatory living expenses include things that do not usually fit into the cost of attendance, ask the financial aid administrator at your school to adjust your cost of attendance to reflect these items. To qualify as a cost of attendance, an expense must be required for you to attend school. One common adjustment is dependent care. If you were responsible to care for dependents before beginning school, your cost of attendance can include daycare expenses for the times when you are in class or doing schoolwork.
Financial Aid Award
Many schools build a financial aid package to meet all of a student's financial need. When you file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the government formula calculates your Estimated Family Contribution, which is the amount that you and your family should be able to afford in college costs. Your financial aid package will usually total the difference between the cost of attendance and the EFC. Therefore, the sum of the amount you and your family pay for college and the financial aid you receive will be the full cost of attendance, including living expenses.
Getting the Money
Whether or not you receive money from the financial aid office for your living expenses depends on how much overall financial aid you receive. If the amount of aid you get each semester is more than the amount of your bill at the school that semester, the financial aid office will give you a refund for the remaining amount. You can use this, along with the family contribution, to pay your living expenses. However, if your family contribution exceeds your allowance for living expenses, all of your financial aid will go toward your school bill. You and your family will have to pay the remainder of the bill and your living expenses out of pocket as your family contribution.