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Six Common Unexpected College Costs

Sep 06, 2019

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Obtaining a college degree can be expensive, and many graduates find themselves paying off student debt for years after graduation. Students and parents often take into account the standard cost of tuition, housing, and food, but there are a number of often-unexpected college costs families should plan for. By being prepared for the full breadth of expenses going into a college semester, students can better write essays and manage their finances. The following are five categories of expenses many new students do not anticipate.

1. Fees

Students should expect to pay some standard fees every semester: facilities charges, computer lab fees, or library fines. But there are some fees students may be surprised to find on their bill. For example, summer classes require additional expenditures. In addition, students in classes that require supplies or materials—such as art, architecture, or science labs—may need to pay additional charges. Furthermore, even online students may be surprised to find recreation center or athletic facility fees applied to their bills, even though they may never set foot on campus. These added charges can add hundreds of dollars to a student's college costs every term.

2. Travel

Every college has an online cost calculator that includes student travel to and from school. However, in reality many students find the cost of travel to be much higher than expected. Students attending college far from home may encounter significant fluctuations in the cost of airline tickets, and they also may find it expensive to transport their belongings to and from campus each year.

3. Textbooks

Textbook costs are another expense that families plan for; often, though, they're taken by surprise by how much more the actual expenses are than their preliminary estimates anticipated. The cost of books varies depending on the type of class. A student taking biology may find the single required textbook costs $170. Another student taking a literature class may find the paperback novels are much less expensive at $10 to $20 each, but with 14 required novels for a single class, the cost adds up. Students can expect to spend $500 to $900 per term on textbooks. Renting books may offer a money saving alternative.

4. Parking and Car Expenses

Students who had a car throughout high school understand that there are usual operating expenses in keeping a car. What many families don't anticipate is the expense of parking and keeping a car on most college campuses. Some schools have ample parking and hand out parking permits at no charge. However, students living on small, crowded campuses or in busy urban areas may find the cost of parking is $200-$500 per month. If parking is a problem on campus, many students find themselves facing parking tickets, and over the course of the semester those charges can add up. Families who budget for only regular maintenance and gas often find themselves surprised by unexpected charges.

5. Greek Life

On paper, the cost of participating in Greek life—sororities and fraternities—can seem minimal. Each chapter will often have annual dues, and there may be additional fees associated with living in the house. The unexpected costs, however, can quickly add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars per semester. Students will often have to purchase tickets to special events, appropriate attire to attend these events, and make donations to their sorority or fraternity's causes. To get an idea of the actual cost of participating in Greek life, students should ask current members about their expenses over the past year or two.

6. Snacking

Most entering freshmen and their families understand that some degree of snacking takes place in college, but they usually underestimate the amount of money college students spend eating snacks. College students will find that vending machines around campus can be linked to their dining points or will accept credit cards. This makes it very easy to swipe the card to get a soda or a snack in between classes, but doing so each day adds up. Late-night pizza delivery during study sessions seems typical of a college student, but ordering pizza even on a weekly basis can add hundreds of dollars to a student's cost of college per year.

It is important for students and parents to accurately budget the amount of money they will need to pay for each year of college education. Underestimating purchases such as snacks or textbooks or failing to account for potentially high costs of travel, parking, or participation in activities such as Greek life can leave students thousands of dollars short at the end of each academic year.