What Is Room and Board?

You're likely familiar with tuition, but what is room and board? Learn what room and board means and how much you can spend on this college expense.
6 min read

Share this Article

  • Colleges do not typically include room and board in their listed tuition rates.
  • Be sure to budget for these costs when preparing for school.
  • Learners can use their student loans to cover room and board costs.

Understanding the cost of room and board is essential for students thinking about studying in person during their college years. Universities don't normally include the cost of housing or food in tuition rates, making it important for students and their families to factor these expenses into their plans when calculating the true cost of college.

Keep reading to learn what room and board includes, how to get costs covered, and whether scholarships, grants, and loans can be used to pay for these expenses.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to Start Your Journey?

What Does Room and Board Include?

While the exact definition of room and board can vary among schools, it usually includes the cost of campus-based housing and meal plans.

In the case of "room," this may include an on-campus dormitory, apartment, or another type of housing provided through the school's office of residential life.

"Board" typically refers to the meal plans provided on campus. Some schools require first- and second-year students to take out larger cafeteria meal plans than more experienced students who often have access to a kitchen.

In addition to cafeteria meal plans, some students can use their money paid toward board to buy snacks, coffee, and meals from campus-based restaurants.

How Much Does Room and Board Cost?

As of the 2019-20 academic year, dormitory lodging at public colleges averaged $6,483 per year, whereas meal plans cost an average of $4,944. These numbers were slightly higher at private universities — $7,397 and $5,757, respectively.

Students can typically use scholarships, grants, and student loans to help cover the cost of room and board. That said, learners who buy their own food and share an off-campus apartment with other students may be able to save money, especially in places with a lower cost of living.

While online students still need to cover the cost of where they live and what they eat, they do not need to pay any room and board fees to their schools.

How to Pay for Room and Board

Figuring out how to pay for room and board — as well as ensuring you understand the ins and outs of financial aid — should be a top priority for college students. Read on to learn how to cover these costs.

Can You Use Student Loans for Room and Board?

Students may use federal loans to cover both on- and off-campus housing and food. To continue receiving funds, you must submit a new FAFSA each year.

Learners should also remember that student loans require repayment. Students who select less expensive housing and meal options can avoid large monthly payments and high interest rates after graduating.

Can You Use Grants for Room and Board?

While individual providers can set stipulations on how recipients may spend awarded money, most college grants allow funds to be used toward room and board. Grants can come from local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as from nonprofit groups.

Because grants do not require repayment so long as students continue to meet all award requirements, they're a great resource for covering room and board.

Can You Use Scholarships for Room and Board?

As with grants, scholarship providers may set specific instructions on how the award may be spent. Some may even specify that funding cannot be used to pay for room and board. That said, many scholarship programs allow students to cover any education-related expenses, including room and board.

Scholarships don't require repayment, so students may use these funds to cover the cost of living without incurring interest or having to pay them back after graduating.

Frequently Asked Questions About Room and Board

Does tuition include room and board?

Chevron Down

Tuition does not cover the cost of room and board -- it covers the cost of school credits. Additional expenses may apply, such as those related to technology fees, student services fees, and costs associated with housing or food.

Because of this, students must factor in the cost of room and board when creating their college budgets. Forgetting to include these expenses can result in being thousands of dollars short when it comes time to pay for your education. If room and board from the university seems too expensive, consider off-campus options and at-home meals.

Is room and board a qualified education expense?

Chevron Down

According to the IRS, room and board is not a qualified education expense. In other words, regardless of whether a student or their parents/guardians covers their education costs, room and board cannot be written off on federal taxes.

As of 2021, qualified education expenses include tuition, fees, and other costs required for enrollment or attendance. Because students can technically live with family, friends, or guardians, room and board is not considered an essential expense.

Do resident advisors get free housing?

Chevron Down

While the answer to this question ultimately depends on individual university policies, most schools provide free housing to students serving as resident advisors (RAs). Some colleges and universities may also provide a meal plan as part of an RA's compensation package.

Students who want to experience life on campus but lack the funds to pay for campus housing often consider this route as a way to save money. RAs have a variety of responsibilities and requirements, so make sure you understand these before signing up for the role.

Feature Image: Michael Hanson / The Image Bank / Getty Images

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare Your School Options

View the most relevant schools for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to finding your college home.