How to Prepare for Indirect College Costs

Resources to help you pay for college.

What are indirect costs?

Indirect costs are expenses associated with being a student that are not paid directly to the college. College expenses that are paid directly to the college are considered direct costs and include tuition, fees, housing, and meal plan.

Indirect costs can include, but are not limited to:

  • Books and supplies: Your classes may require materials like textbooks or software. 
  • Travel expenses: If you live on campus, you’ll need to travel home when the dorms close for holidays and breaks. If you’re commuting, you’ll need to pay for public transportation or car expenses depending on how you get to campus. 
  • Bills: Phone bills, medical expenses, rent (if living off campus), and other expenses will need to be covered. 
  • Living supplies: You may need to buy things for your dorm or apartment, such as bedding, shower supplies, and snacks. 
  • Entertainment: You’ll want to do things outside of classes for fun, which is an important part of your college experience! 

Though this list doesn't include all indirect costs, it should help you start thinking about some of the everyday expenses you’ll need to consider as you prepare your college budget. 

How can I prepare for indirect costs?

The first step is to think about what expenses you may be responsible for. It can be helpful to create a budget or write down what you currently spend on a weekly basis, and think about how attending college may impact that. Once you’ve identified expenses you can expect, you should have conversations with your family about whether they are able to provide any financial support while you’re in college. Consider working a summer job or taking a part-time job during college to help pay.

How can I reduce indirect costs?

One major indirect cost is books, which you can reduce by buying used books or e-textbooks, checking them out in the library, or looking for free PDF versions online. If you’re attending college out of state, you may need to buy plane tickets to travel home during breaks when dorms close. Planning ahead and buying tickets outside of peak times can help reduce your costs. 

What are some ways to pay for indirect costs?

Some of the most common ways to pay for indirect costs are financial aid, scholarships, part-time jobs, and savings. Make sure to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) every year, and the CSS Profile® if your college requires it for institutional aid. Apply for scholarships throughout your time in college to get as much financial aid as possible. Getting a part-time or work-study job is another great way to help pay. Check with your family to see if you have an education savings account or 529 plan that you can use on qualified education expenses. Certain indirect costs are considered qualified education expenses, like textbooks and laptops. 

What if I’m having trouble covering my college expenses?

If you’re having trouble covering your college expenses, you’re not alone. College costs can be expensive, but there are resources to help. You should contact your financial aid office about ways to reduce your expenses or opportunities for more aid (whether in the form of a scholarship, grant, work-study, or loan). Talk to other students at your college who may have experience with paying for college expenses at your school. They may be able to give advice and provide resources that may be helpful in your situation. Many college campuses also have resource centers available to help students cover common expenses. These centers may have a food pantry, affordable clothing, transportation assistance, and many other supports. The key to finding and getting support is to ask for help. 

Understanding and making a plan to cover indirect costs is an important part of preparing for college. Knowing how to pay and what resources may be available is essential to covering college expenses and ensuring you have what you need to be successful. For more information about the cost of college, check out our article about the cost of attendance.