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Financial Aid 101: Understanding Your Cost of Attendance


The next few emails in our series will be helpful to have on hand as you begin comparing financial aid awards from different schools and start making decisions about your future education. (By the way, we plan to start sending award letters in a couple of weeks.) Today's email explains a section you will see on all award letters: the 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 the University of Denver for one academic year. But don't be startled by the total COA you see on your award letter. Your cost of attendance doesn't just include tuition; it takes into account your basic living expenses, too.

Why is this listed on my financial aid award letter?
We assign each student a cost of attendance, and your COA serves two purposes:

  1. to give you an idea of the typical cost of a DU education for one year, and
  2. to set a limit on the amount of financial aid you can receive during the academic year (which federal regulations require us to do).

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

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

  • Direct costs are items that will appear on your University bill, such as tuition, fees, and room and board (if you live on campus).
  • Indirect costs will not appear on your bill, but are estimated costs associated with going to college and should be included in your 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 would have the following cost of attendance for the 2014-15 school year:

Direct Costs: Tuition $41,112 
  Fees  978 
  Room & Board 11,307 
  Subtotal $53,397 
Indirect Costs: Books 1,800 
  Transportation Expenses 1,167 
  Personal Expenses 1,332 
  Average Loan Fees 70 
  Cost of Attendance $57,766 

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 2014-15 academic year (which is considered full time).
  • Room & Board: 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.
  • Transportation: This is an estimate of the cost of traveling to and from campus, and includes the cost of operating and maintaining a vehicle.
  • Personal Expenses: This is an estimate of costs for clothing, haircuts, entertainment, etc. for the year. What you actually spend on these types of items may be higher or lower depending on your lifestyle.
  • Average Loan Fees: There is an origination fee of 1.072% for Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized student loans, which is then taken out of the loan before funds are sent to DU. The $70 listed above is the average fee for students who borrow these loans. Actual fees will depend on the amount you borrow (if any).

Where do these figures come from?
Direct costs are determined by the University of Denver. For indirect costs, we use the recommended cost 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 consider overall value. Make sure you are comparing the total cost of attending that school—not just the total financial aid awarded. Next week's email is about determining unmet costs, which will help you gain a better understanding of how your financial aid package compares to the cost of a DU education.

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

Up next week: Determining Your Unmet Cost

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

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