$17,000 a Year for a Dorm Room? Lower Your College Housing Costs

college dormWow, who would have thought that a state school would have some of the highest-priced dorm rooms in the nation? But yes, the University of California at Berkeley (right) has the second most-expensive dorm rent, at $15,307 per year.

The award for the highest-priced dorm goes to Eugene Lang College, part of the New School in (where else?) New York City. It charges $17,710, partly because it's located near hip Union Square and Washington Square Park, and is in buildings that are designated historical landmarks.

CampusGrotto.com recently listed the 10 most expensive college dorms for the 2010-11 school year. The good news is that the average room and board costs is nearly half that at Berkeley and Eugene Lang, costing $8,535 at public schools and $9,700 at private colleges. The bad news is that room and board prices rose last year by 4.6% at public schools and 3.9% at the private ones, and probably won't stop rising.You may not realize that your dorm costs may be higher than your tuition bill, but there are ways to lower your college rent and still have a decent roof over your head.

Pick a College in a Decently Priced Area

On CollegeGrotto's list, 16 out of the 20 priciest dorms are in New York, California and Boston, areas renowned for expensive real estate. Sandy Baumgardner, an economist at the College Board, recommends looking at well-ranked state universities in low-cost areas like Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, Utah and Wisconsin.

For example, a standard double room at the University of Utah costs $3,100 per academic year, and tuition is less than $5,000. Students at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill., pay just $2,315 for a standard dorm room at the liberal-arts school, with free Internet and 80 cable channels. That's a tad over $250 per month. Add $2,300 for the cafeteria plan, and you're still paying $550 per month for room and board. Blackburn is only 90 minutes away from urban St. Louis, but the downside of small-town colleges is that they may be rural and lack the cultural amenities that you're looking for.

So beware if you're a city-lover: Small towns may not have good public transportation, so your reduced dorm costs could be negated by car payments and fuel bills.

Go With the Basics

Do you really need your own room? You'll pay way more than if you shared a double or a quad room. UCLA, which bills room and board together, drops its rate from $12,000 to about $10,600 for students who agree to share a room.

Some colleges charge more if you want the extras, like cable and fitness clubs. At Blackburn College, students who want air-conditioned rooms pay an extra $1,000, but recent grad Katie Crone says that she could live nicely in a non-AC room using a fan and letting the breeze come through an open window. "For me, a dorm room is a place to sleep and do homework."

Take on Chores

Many colleges reduce room and board costs for students who are willing to work around campus. UCLA students willing to do five hours of chores weekly can slash their costs dramatically, to $5,000 per year for a standard double room and 19 meals a week.

Live at Home

Yes, not the most appealing option if you're ready to fly the coop, but it certainly is the cheapest if you're attending college near your hometown. With the number of hours you'll spend studying or taking part in extracurricular activities, your room will become a place to sleep and do homework.

And the money you'll save in room and board costs, even for one year, can easily cover a big chunk of your tuition. By saving money now and keeping your college loans lower, you'll be more likely to graduate with little to no debt -- and afford a place of your own.
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