Understanding Your College Tuition Bill

It’s summer, and if you’re heading to college in the fall, you’ve completed your college applications, received your financial aid offers, and decided on a college. But there’s still more to do before college begins, including understanding and paying your first college tuition bill.

The tuition bill shows all the expenses a college charges each semester, including things like tuition and fees, housing, and a meal plan (if you’re going to live on campus). The annual cost will be divided into two bills (three if your school runs on a trimester schedule), one for each semester. Your first college bill will show you the amount you owe for the fall semester.

Your college bill is time-sensitive, so be sure to keep an eye out for it. Check your mail, email, and student portal often for any updates from the college.

How to read a college bill

When will I get my college bill?

If you plan to enroll in the fall, you should receive your first college bill sometime in July. Go to your college’s website or call the office that handles student bills, often known as the bursar’s office, student financial services office, or student accounts office for more information about billing.

Make sure you’re looking at the most up-to-date version of the bill by checking the issue date. This is the date the bill was sent to you. If you have any questions or concerns about your bill, contact the office that sent it.

When is my bill due?

The bill is usually due sometime in August before the semester starts, but exact due dates vary from college to college. You can find the exact date your college expects you to pay in the bill’s due date section.

What should I look for on the college bill?

Review the amount due.

Your bill will show how much you’re responsible for paying in the amount due or balance due section

Check the bill for accuracy.

Check these items on your bill and call the college if you find any errors.

  • Basic information: your name and address
  • Enrollment status: full time, part time, undergraduate
  • Housing status: on or off campus, living at home
  • Residence status if you’re attending a public college: in state, out of state

Review the charges and credits listed.

Charges are items the college is billing directly to you, such as tuition for one semester, lab fees, or a meal plan. Take a look at what you’ve been billed for—is there anything missing, or something you were charged for that shouldn’t be there? Are there any voluntary charges you might be able to opt out of paying?

Credits are payments toward your charges, such as any anticipated financial aid you’ll get for the term or semester. Check that all financial aid that should be applied to your bill is included. Examples include federal grants, loans, institutional grants or scholarships, and outside scholarships. You should also ensure that any payments you’ve already made toward your bill, such as the tuition deposit, are reflected. If you received a federal work-study award, you won’t typically find this on your bill or student account. Federal work-study is given to you as a paycheck.

College-provided health insurance

In some states and at certain colleges, students are automatically charged for an institutional health insurance policy. Usually, students who already have comparable health insurance coverage can remove this charge from their bill by signing a waiver. Contact the college to find out how to waive student health insurance charges.

What if some financial aid is missing from my bill?

Contact the financial aid office if some of your expected financial aid isn’t on your bill. This may be an error, or you may need to take some final steps to receive all of your aid. Some schools require students to accept their financial aid by going through a simple process on their student portal.

If the Federal Direct student loans you were expecting aren’t shown as a credit on your bill, it might be because you still need to sign your Master Promissory Note (sometimes called MPN) and complete Entrance Loan Counseling . You’ll need your FSA ID username and password to complete these steps on studentaid.gov. If you need additional guidance, reach out to the financial aid office at your college.

What should I do if payments are missing from my bill?

If you made a payment or set up a tuition payment plan recently and it’s not showing up on your bill, it could mean the college is still processing those payments. Check your student portal regularly for an updated billing statement or reach out to the office that sent your bill.

What happens if I don’t pay my college bill?

Make a plan to pay the bill by the due date. If you don’t pay your college bill in full or sign up for a payment plan before the due date, the college may drop your classes or charge you late fees.

If you need help understanding your college bill or financial aid, reach out to the college by phone or email. The financial aid office and student account office should be able to answer any questions about your bill.