Enrolling in College

After you decide which college you’re attending, it’s time to enroll. We’ll help you figure out how many classes to take and consider what you’ll be paying for in your first semester. This is the crucial next step in your college journey.

Image representing "What Getting a Degree Really Costs".

What a college semester really costs

This may not be news to you, but going to college costs more than you might think.

Sure, tuition and textbooks are givens. It’s the costs you don’t expect that are going to make you spend more than you might want to in college.

Additional expenses for things like fees, housing, food, transportation and parking, clubs and extracurricular groups, technology needs, entertainment, and clothes for interviews can add up.

It can be helpful to start thinking about these costs and how you plan to pay for them.


On top of your tuition, fees are extra expenses you’ll pay to your school of choice.

These fees are typically paid by all students to help cover the costs of campus operations as well as additional resources like those that support student success programs.

Most fees are going to be mandatory, but it’s worth contacting your school’s bursar, cashier, or student services office to ask what fees you could potentially avoid paying.


Housing is another big expense you’ll need to account for. It’s up to you to decide what you prioritize for your college living arrangements.

Are you going to live on campus or off campus? Are roommates in the picture? If so, how many?

If you’re living off campus, how far away do you plan on living? Will living off campus cost more in rent, utilities, and parking costs than living on campus (where you’ll be closer to classes and other useful resources)?


Studies have shown that what you eat can impact your grades. It’s important to budget enough money, either with a campus meal plan, or for your own groceries, to eat well-balanced, nutritional meals.

Want to save money here? Don’t do both (buy a meal plan and then buy groceries/eat out) regularly. You’re paying to eat twice!

Decide on your food strategy ahead of time.

Transportation and parking

If you don’t live on or near campus, you’re going to need a plan for getting to class.

Will you have a car, or take the bus? Can you bike to class? Do you live too far to walk? Can you afford to ride share?

If you’re off campus and decide to use your own transportation, you’ll have to factor in the costs of gas, car maintenance, and parking or permit fees.

If you decide to use a bike, maintaining your bike and purchasing a bike parking permit may also be necessary expenses.

Clubs and extracurricular groups

Creating a support network is one of the most important things you can do in college.

Organizations like fraternities, sororities, club sports teams, and other extracurricular groups can be a great way to meet people, some groups require dues.

If you plan to be active in a group, see if they have scholarships or waived fees. Some may even offer payment plans, so you don’t have to pay dues or fees all at once.

Technology needs

If your laptop or phone is in rough shape or outdated, it may be time to upgrade before classes start. It can be tempting to get a laptop and phone with lots of features, but only focus on what you need.

Shop around to find the most affordable options. Companies such as Apple®, DellTM, and Best BuyTM offer various discounts for college students and typically only require an active ‘.edu’ email address to verify your student discount.

If you can’t afford to purchase new technology, see if your school offers rental options. Many schools have the tech you need for your classes for rent or use in the library.


All work and no play can make life dull.

Taking a break and blowing off steam every now and then can help you refresh and come back to your studies with a renewed focus.

Check out the student discounts offered for these digital subscription services: Amazon PrimeTM, AudibleTM, Spotify®, and Apple Music®. You’ll just need a .edu email address to qualify.

However, keep your entertainment spending in check (and stick to your budget). You don’t want to blow a bunch of money on fun things and monthly streaming subscriptions and not have enough money for textbooks, food, and other necessities.

Clothes for interviews

Chances are you’ll be interviewing at some point while you’re in college, either for work-study, college job fairs, an internship, or for a full time job. When that happens, you’ll want to put your best foot forward.

You’ll need to budget for business professional clothing before you look for that first job, so keep this in mind the next time you’re shopping for back-to-school clothing.

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Going to school full-time vs part-time

Going to school full- or part-time is often a life balance decision. You have to blend your degree plan with your ability to meet your other responsibilities.

When determining how much time you can reasonably spend overall on classes, estimate that for every hour in class, you should spend at least two hours studying.

So if you take 12 hours (minimum for a full-time student at most colleges) you can expect to spend 12 hours per week in class, and an additional 24 hours per week studying.

There are other trade-offs between full- and part-time enrollment as well, including any strings that may be attached to your financial aid (grants and scholarships).

Full-time college student

Lots of students attend college full-time. And it’s certainly doable. But here are some things to keep in mind.

As a full-time college student, you’ll be taking at least 12 hours per semester.

You can choose to take more than that, and that might help you complete your degree more quickly.

However, it will be a heavier course load, and you’ll have less time for work. Working less means missing out on earning money to pay for school.

You’ll have more to pay each semester, but, there are scholarships and grants for full-time students that can cover a lot, if not all, of your costs.

Being a full-time student also means you’ll have less time to balance family responsibilities, but some campuses offer family support resources as well.

Work with your school’s financial aid office and your academic advisor to stay up to date on all the resources available to you so you can avoid or minimize borrowing for school.

Part-time college student

Many students with other responsibilities such as work and family, elect to attend school part-time (less than 12 hours per semester).

Doing this will mean it will take longer to complete your degree plan, but you’ll have more time for work and family and pay less overall each semester.

The downside to slowing down your degree plan is that the interest on any non-subsidized federal loans you’ve taken out will build up more before you are required to begin paying them off.

Going to school less than full-time, and getting your degree more slowly, also means you delay any expected earnings from your degree after college.

Whatever you decide, stay in contact and get advice from your school’s financial aid office and your academic advisor. They’re experienced in helping lots of students in situations like yours.

Making it to the first day of classes

The time between your acceptance to college and the first day of classes may seem like the calm before the storm, but there are usually some important steps to take during this time.

You’ll probably have student orientation or a list of enrollment tasks to complete, as well as official documents to send to your school before the first day.

But sometimes, accepted students never go to orientation, don’t complete their enrollment, and never make it to the first day of classes.

This can happen for all kinds of reasons, including unexpected expenses, trouble getting all the right documents, or simple miscommunication about enrollment requirements.

Whatever the reason, the important thing is that you avoid missing that first day of class. You don’t want to waste all your hard work!

Keep your eyes peeled for emails, texts, and calls from your school, as these usually have reminders about important dates and checklists for enrolling.

Think you might be missing a step in your college enrollment process? Don’t take a chance—contact your school to find out!

If it looks like you might not be able to afford the cost or time it takes to go to college, get in touch with your school’s admissions office. They may have resources to help you get enrolled and stay in school.