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Does Financial Aid Cover My College Housing?

Financial aid covers housing, but it has its limits. If you need more funding to pay for housing, you could consider federal or private student loans.

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By Lindsay VanSomeren

Written by

Lindsay VanSomeren

Writer

Lindsay VanSomeren specializes in credit and loans. Her work has appeared on Credit Karma, Forbes Advisor, LendingTree, and more.

Edited by Jared Hughes

Written by

Jared Hughes

Editor

Jared Hughes is a personal loan editor for Credible and Fox Money, and has been producing digital content for more than six years.

Updated November 3, 2023

Editorial disclosure: Our goal is to give you the tools and confidence you need to improve your finances.

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College costs involve far more than just tuition, and some of those other expenses can be substantial. Housing, for example, often costs more than tuition.

Thankfully, financial aid does cover housing. And you have a few other options to help with the costs, too.

Financial aid can cover up to the cost of attendance

You can use financial aid to cover your school’s cost of attendance, which could include both on-campus and off-campus housing. But limits apply to the amount of financial aid you can get. Your financial aid award also might not be enough to cover the full cost of attendance.

To apply for financial aid, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The federal Department of Education uses the information you provide on the FAFSA to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) — which is how much your family is expected to contribute to your education. Your college will use your EFC, and other factors, to decide how much financial aid to offer you.

After you submit the FAFSA, your school will send you a financial aid award letter. This letter will detail the financial aid you qualify for, such as:

How much financial aid can I get?

Generally, the fewer assets you or your family have, the more financial aid you might be eligible for. This will also depend on whether you’re an independent or a dependent student.

For example, if you’re a dependent student and your parents used a 529 plan to save for your education, you might receive less financial aid. Or if you’re an independent student with no assets, you might be eligible for more.

Also keep in mind that some aid is given on a first-come, first-served basis — so it’s a good idea to submit the FAFSA as early as possible, especially if you have high financial need.

If you’re taking out student loans, find out how much you’ll owe over the life of your federal or private student loans using our student loan calculator below.

Learn More: How to Qualify for Financial Aid

Average cost of housing on campus

The cost of college and of living on campus varies widely depending on your school and your area.

For example: You’ll pay $11,910 for on-campus housing at Northern Michigan University (a public university) and $10,000 at Carnegie Mellon University (a private university).

Every school publishes its own cost of attendance estimating how much it will likely cost you to attend. This generally includes:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board
  • School supplies, such as college textbooks
  • Transportation

 

Keep in mind: Some schools’ cost estimations are more detailed than others.

For example, one school might publish different costs based on your living situation (such as on or off campus) while another won’t.

Check Out: When to Apply for Student Loans

Save money by living off campus

You also have the option of living off campus, which could be less expensive than on-campus housing depending on the apartment you choose as well as geographical location.

In this case, your school will use your financial aid to first cover your tuition and fees before releasing any leftover funds to you. You can then use this money to pay your off-campus rent.

However, if you’re considering on-campus versus off-campus housing, keep in mind that living off campus comes with its own drawbacks. These include:

  • Finding the apartment you want
  • Potentially dealing with roommates (or paying more rent if you don’t want roommates)
  • Keeping track of bills
  • Needing transportation to school
  • Possibly missing on-campus social activities

Learn More: Federal vs. Private Student Loans

FAFSA housing plans

When filling out the FAFSA, you may have come across questions pertaining to the type of housing plan for each of the schools you’ve listed. These are On Campus, With Parent, and Off Campus. You must select one for each school you’re considering attending.

Does FAFSA give me more money if I live off campus?

No, selecting Off Campus does not give you more money if you decide to live off campus. For some colleges, a student’s financial aid eligibility is determined by a standard room amount. For example, the amount for the University of Notre Dame is $16,710 per student. Choosing any option won’t affect the amount of money you’ll receive.

Use private student loans to fill the gaps

If you’ve exhausted your financial aid and federal student loan options, private student loans could help fill any gaps. You might be able to borrow more in private student loans than in federal student loans, typically up to the cost of attendance.

But remember to borrow only what you need to keep your future costs low — especially since these loans aren’t eligible for federal repayment assistance like loan forgiveness.

Keep in mind: Unlike federal student loans that come with strict application deadlines, a big advantage of private student loans is that you can take them out at any point during the semester. It’s also a good idea to apply as soon as you know you need the loan funds.

If you decide to take out private student loans, be sure to consider as many lenders as possible to find the right loan for you.

Credible makes this easy — you can compare your prequalified rates from our partner lenders in the table below in two minutes.

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All APRs reflect autopay and loyalty discounts where available | LightStream disclosure | SoFi Disclosures | Read more about Rates and Terms

Meet the expert:
Lindsay VanSomeren

Lindsay VanSomeren specializes in credit and loans. Her work has appeared on Credit Karma, Forbes Advisor, LendingTree, and more.