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According to National Center for Education Statistics, more than 26 million students enroll in a U.S. institution of higher education annually, of which roughly 3 million are first-time freshmen. In other terms, there are hundreds of thousands of high school seniors each year prospecting for colleges, weighing their options, comparing sticker prices, and identifying costs.

For those groups of students who plan to go to college away from their hometown, one such cost that often is brought to their attention when reviewing different schools is room and board. Since most colleges and universities do not include the cost of food and accommodation in their tuition rates, it is important that students and their parents take into account these expenses during their evaluations. In this article, we are going to give you a rundown on what exactly room and board is and what costs it entails. On a side note, since colleges and universities are required to provide information about their cost of attendance on their websites, we recommend checking them individually for more accurate cost assessments. You can find relevant information about each institution at

What Is Room and Board?

The term room and board simply refers to the lodging and meal plan that a school provides for its students on campus. It constitutes a considerable portion of the cost of college for the average non-local student. It should be noted, however, that this cost is not a college exclusive expense as students need food and a roof over their heads regardless of where they are. What students and their families should account for in their calculations is the excess cost associated with living in student housing.

What Are the Room Options?

While all room and board packages provided by institutions cover food and shelter for students, the details of their packages vary by each individual school.

The place of residence provided could be any type of housing that allows students to stay during the semester or the academic year and is owned and operated by the institution. The most typical room option is residence halls or dormitories. These facilities usually offer single, double, and triple occupancy rooms with private or communal baths. The shared rooms naturally are less expensive and more cramped in space. Alternatively, many institutions offer university housing which is full-fledged apartments with multiple rooms. These apartments are much more spacious and look more residential than basic dorm rooms.

Students who want to be more independent also have the option to go for off-campus housing. These are private houses and apartments that can be found in the host city of the college. Since private housing is not associated with the college of attendance, students have more responsibility in terms of upkeep, utilities, and even security. However, off-campus houses and apartments can be more affordable, especially in cities that have large student populations. Sharing the place with other roommates also helps cut the costs by a significant fraction although that may come with its own challenges. It should be noted that many colleges make living on campus mandatory for freshmen and it is typically the upperclassmen that opt for off-campus housing.

In terms of what is included with a room fee, residence halls and dormitories usually supply students with the most essential furniture and furnishings required for a comfortable stay. This includes furniture such as a bed frame, bookcase, bureau, mattress, and other things of that sort. General utilities such as heat, electricity, and internet are also covered. More expensive housing options, however, may be more equipped and offer amenities such as workout facilities, pools, and parking spaces.

What Are the Board Options?

As we mentioned earlier, “board” in room and board refers to the meal plan options that a student gets while living on campus. Most colleges offer a variety of options both in terms of food choice and the number of meals a student can have access to. Colleges that require incoming freshmen to reside on campus usually mandate them to sign up for a meal plan as well.

Meal plans are often flexible enough to accommodate different budgets and dietary preferences and restrictions. Since board charges are billed per semester or quarterly, it is important that the student knows their class schedule and their weekend plans in advance to be able to choose a plan that benefits them the most and avoid skipping meals. Although different colleges handle meal plans differently and some institutions like the University of Oregon are more flexible with meal plan balance.

How Much Are the Room and Board Costs?

According to the data from the NCES, the average lodging cost for students among all post-secondary institutions in the 2019-20 academic year (the last updated year) was $7,424 while the meal plans cost for students in the same year averaged $5,148.

While these numbers can give you a rough idea about the room and board expenses, costs may vary significantly based on a number of factors such as the college of attendance, the city and location of the institution within the city, residential and meal plan options, and the financial aid packages that colleges may offer.