Photo of woman driving in a car

Here’s How To Decide Whether To Invest in a Car For College

Owning an automobile is certainly convenient, but is it worth the cost?
March 5, 2020
5 mins read

Almost half of college students bring cars to their college campuses, and in some universities, the percentage can go as high as 98%. Likewise, there are college campuses like John Hopkins and Georgetown University where there is a 0% rate of college students owning cars on campus. With the average price of a small used car being pegged at $3,000, there is no doubt that owning a car is a huge financial undertaking for any college-bound student — and one that should be taken with much consideration. Investing in a car can boost your college social life and open up new cities for career exploration, but it comes with a price. So how can you determine whether owning a car in college is right for you?

Can your afford the maintenance on a college budget?

Recent figures put the average budget for college students at $24,980, and that is without the $700 plus price tag that comes with owning a car. In fact, the American Automobile Association estimates the cost of owning an automobile can reach up to $8,469 for college students. With 7 in 10 college students already stressed about finances, adding in the expenses of owning a car can make an already tricky college budget even more complicated. There are fuel costs, repairs, parking charges and, of course, interest charges if you opt to secure financing for your car. As such, it’s advisable to compare interest rates and repayment options before settling on a loan provider. Even if you already own a car, you should be prepared to shell out up to $2,500 in campus parking fees per semester.

Is it cheaper than public transport for your commute needs?

Estimates by Collegeboard have shown that the average college student spends between $1,050 and $1,800 on transportation costs each year. This includes off-campus commutes to jobs or between campus and home, along with the regular errands or class commute if living on a large campus. On the other hand, owning a car comes with the initial price tag and average upkeep of around $706 per month (if driven 15000 miles or less).

While a car certainly comes with the benefit of convenience and a level of comfort, it also comes with overhead costs that are incurred — regardless of its use — like parking charges. Before buying a car, consider what your daily commute looks like and whether it is cheaper to utilize campus-provided transport or trains for longer journeys. If you find yourself having to travel quite often, it might be cheaper to own a car. However, in highly accessible cities like New York, you may be better off financially buying an unlimited 30-day metro card for $127 or paying for single rides ($2.75).

Can you use your car to increase your employability and career prospects?

Almost 80 percent of college students work while studying, and having a car can prove to be a valuable way to expand your job search radius. While there are jobs on campus, there are hundreds of other college students vying for the same jobs every semester. Owning a car allows you to venture further and consider part-time jobs in nearby towns or at local businesses. There are also the all-important internships being offered by many larger companies that become much more accessible if you own a car. If you do intend on working or securing an internship while in college, having your own can help you to access a wider variety of employment options.

Another point to consider is whether you will be living on campus or commuting. If you’re planning to live at home with family, then a car can become necessary rather than optional. The overhead costs of owning also become much more acceptable for your budget, thanks to the removal of room and board costs.

Owning a car is a huge financial and lifestyle decision for anyone. Whether it is deciding if you can afford to purchase one or assessing whether owning a car aids or obstructs your goals, it should definitely be a part of your college considerations.

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