The cost of attending a UC is not merely tuition. That’s only about half the cost. While there are several minor add-ons, such as books and supplies (usually never as high as estimated by the UC), transportation, and insurance, the biggest additional expense is housing and food. In fact, for many of the UCs, if you want to live on-campus, expect the cost of room and board to possibly be higher than the tuition.
On-campus housing or off-campus housing
It may come as sticker shock when a student opts into on-campus housing, lists the top four-five choices and then doesn’t get what was asked for. It’s because housing is based on a lottery system, and in the case of Berkeley, the on-campus housing ranges from about $8,500 a year to $16,000+ a year. That’s a whopping huge difference. The low-end does not include a meal plan (add about $2,400 a year) because these units have kitchens, while the $16,000 does.
For students who can’t afford the higher costs, going for off-campus housing is not as dire as is often presented. Sure, there is the ability to meet more people when situated in a campus residential unit, but you can also get just as involved by being off-campus. And many off-campus living situations are within a few blocks of campus, giving you just as many perks as your on-campus counterparts. Don’t get me wrong, on-campus housing may be the perfect way to go, but be aware it’s not the only way to meet people and get involved.
Additionally, as it is a lottery and juggling act, many transfer students get situated into on-campus housing with sophomores and even freshmen, which sometimes causes initial angst. My own personal observation is these areas of friction smooth out after a couple of months. I commend the UCs for trying hard to keep everyone happy in what can only be described as a most difficult process. (As a side note for all transfers, whether living on campus or off – the number one key to a successful social transfer, in my opinion, is to connect on Facebook to a Transfer page, usually set up by students.)
True costs of a UC
So, keeping with the high costs of housing, KQED recently ran an article, How Much Does it Really Cost to Go to a College in California? In the article, it reprints the UC interactive map that shows the tuition and housing costs for each UC. The article notes that the highest discrepancy between on-campus housing and off-campus living is at UC Merced. The room and board for on-campus Merced housing is $15,646, while the equivalent off-campus cost is under $7,000. A rep for Merced noted the discrepancy is largely due to the costs of the new campus.
The takeaway from this is not to discredit on-campus housing because you may win the lottery and get a moderately-priced one, or even if you don’t, the pros may far outweigh the cons. What I want as the imprint is this: On-campus housing is not the only way to go. You can share an apartment and fit right in with your UC community. Don’t feel your options are limited.