Cost of Attendance & the Bill: What’s the Difference?

Cost of Attendance

Cost of Attendance (COA) vs the bill? They’re the same thing, right? If you said “yes,” you would be incorrect!

It’s very common for students and families to think think that a school’s COA and the bill are the same, when in fact, the two are very different. The COA includes two components: direct costs and indirect expenses. Let’s break them down.

Direct Costs:

You can think of direct costs as your bill. These are things that a school will bill you for, including tuition & fees and housing & food (a meal plan), if applicable.

Indirect Expenses:

Unlike direct costs, indirect expenses like books, course materials, supplies, equipment, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses are expenses that the school doesn’t actually bill the student for. These are just estimated costs that the student could incur as a result of attending school.

Understanding the COA:

We provide the entire COA and not just an estimate of the bill for a few reasons:

  1. To allow the student and their family to understand that attending college can cost more than the “sticker price” of tuition & fees and housing & food and to plan for these expenses.
  2. To limit the amount a student can borrow. We do not want students overborrowing to attend school, as they’ll owe any borrowed monies plus interest back in the future. In order to assist students in making smarter financial decisions, the U.S. Department of Education does not allow schools to offer aid for more than the COA, even if the student or parent is approved for a loan larger than the COA.

    If you’re looking at the Cost of Attendance and just want to know how much the bill is going to be, only pay attention to those direct costs. If you want to estimate how much your other indirect expenses could be or how much financial aid, including loans you could receive, include those indirect expenses.


When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask questions! At Stockton, we provide students with a Bill Estimator, so that students can determine how much their bill may be for any given semester based on the number of credits in which they enroll as well as their housing and meal plan selection. View our bill estimator here.

For more information on the Cost of Attendance, visit or contact our office with any questions by either emailing or scheduling a phone appointment with us at

Comments are closed.