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Financial Aid 101:
Understanding Cost of Attendance

University of Denver Financial Aid

The next few emails in our series will be helpful to have on hand as you and your student begin comparing financial aid award offers from different schools and start making decisions about how to finance your student's education. Today's email explains a section you will see on all award letters: cost of attendance.

What exactly is the "cost of attendance?"
The cost of attendance (COA)—sometimes referred to as the "student budget"—is an estimate of what it costs a typical student to attend a college or university for one academic year. Don't be startled by the COA you see on your student's award letter from the University of Denver. The cost of attendance doesn't only include tuition; it takes into account basic living expenses, too.

Why is this listed on the financial aid award letter?
Every student who applies for aid is assigned a cost of attendance. This COA serves two purposes:

  1. to provide an estimate of the cost to attend DU for one year, and
  2. to set a limit on the amount of financial aid your student can receive during the academic year (which federal regulations require us to do).

This means actual expenses may be different from what's listed on the award letter, and the total amount of your student's aid—including scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study—can't exceed the total cost of attendance.

What's included in the COA?
The cost of attendance is made up of two different types of costs: direct and indirect.

  • Direct costs are items that will appear on your student's University bill, such as tuition, fees, and room and board (if living on campus).
  • Indirect costs will not appear on the bill, but are estimated costs associated with going to college and should be included in the budget. These include items like books, transportation and personal expenses.

Here's an example...
A typical, DU undergraduate student living on campus and taking a full load of classes has the following cost of attendance for the 2015-16 school year (figures for the 2016-17 school year will be available on our website in March):

Direct Costs: Tuition $43,164 
  Fees 1,014 
  Room & Board 11,702 
  Subtotal $55,880 
Indirect Costs: Books 1,800 
  Transportation Expenses 1,167 
  Personal Expenses 1,359 
  Average Loan Fees 69 
  Cost of Attendance $60,275 

Let's take this example and break down each line-item into further detail:

  • Tuition and Fees: These figures reflect the cost of tuition and fees for a student taking 12-18 credits during each of the fall, winter and spring quarters of the 2015-16 academic year (which is considered full time).
  • Room & Board: Otherwise known as "housing and meals," DU calculates this figure by using the weighted average of a double-occupancy room on campus and the "Unlimited" meal plan. (Want to know more specific rates? Visit the Housing & Residential Education website.)
  • Books: This is the average cost of books and supplies for a typical student for the entire academic year. Students are not billed directly by DU for books or supplies.
  • Transportation: This is an estimate of the cost of traveling to and from campus, and the cost of operating and maintaining a vehicle. Unless a DU parking permit is purchased, you will not be billed directly for transportation costs.
  • Personal Expenses: This is an estimate of costs for clothing, haircuts, entertainment, etc. for the year. What your student actually spends on these types of items will likely be different. Personal expenses will not appear on the DU bill.
  • Average Loan Fees: There is an origination fee of 1.068% for Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized student loans, which is taken out of the loan before funds are sent to DU. The $69 listed above is the average fee for students who borrow these loans. Actual fees will depend on the amount your student borrows (if any).

Where do these figures come from?
Direct costs are determined by the University of Denver. For indirect costs, we use the recommended guidelines published by the Colorado Department of Higher Education. All figures change slightly every year.

One final note...
When comparing financial aid packages from other schools, it's important to focus on unmet cost (or "bottom line"), not just the sticker price or the amount of financial aid your student was awarded. We will address how to compare offers and determine the unmet cost for your student to attend DU in a future Financial Aid 101 email.

Cost of attendance is one of the most complicated aspects of the financial aid process, so please contact us if you have additional questions!


In two weeks: How Your Financial Aid Package is Determined

Want to review past Financial Aid 101 emails? Check out the archives!

Contact Us:

Financial Aid • University Hall 255 • 2197 S. University Blvd • Denver, CO 80208

Ph: 303.871.4020 • Fax: 303.871.2341 • Email:

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