Beyond Tuition: Costs Families Need to Budget For

When you decided where you wanted to live, I bet you thought about the cost of living and what you could afford. Rent and housing prices vary by city as well as expenses down to the cost of a cup of coffee. The same would apply to a student going to college. When your student chooses a campus, comparing costs and quality of life go well beyond tuition, room, and board.

When you need help figuring out what these costs might be, the best sources are students who already live on and off campus or check if your school has a student money management office. They can tell you about the living expenses for that particular school.

Knowing these expenses will help you figure out if what you budgeted is enough or whether you’ll need to make adjustments or consider additional funding. It will also be a good time to set limits on spending, so your student doesn’t misuse a credit card as a last resort.

Here are 11 other expenses you’ll need to consider when your student is choosing a college:

New student orientation

As soon as possible, you should check on the fees for new student orientation. Depending on the school, your student may or may not be required to attend. Thus, the first question should be whether or not orientation is mandatory. The second question should be if there are discounts for early registration. It’s also good to ask if there any waivers offered for the fee.

Since, orientation is often well before school starts, you’ll want to include transportation and lodging costs for your student and yourself if attending with them.

Transportation (on campus and at home)

If your student is living on campus and not driving, local transportation is as simple as a local public transit pass and a few Uber rides when needed. This expense can be estimated from current students or other on-campus student resources.

When it’s time to come home, it depends how far away the student’s college is from home. Be realistic on the number of trips home including holidays and winter or spring breaks. Don’t immediately jump to the obvious (and usually most expensive) modes of transportation such as trains and planes. On the East Coast for instance, buses are a viable source of transportation that are comfy and less than $40 round-trip. Also, check rates on discount airlines such as Frontier. Frontier regularly gives out promo codes for up to 75 percent off flights.


This expense only applies if your student is bringing a car on campus. Be aware though, that if they don’t buy a parking pass, they may rack up parking ticket fees, so it’s not a bad idea to include that in the budget too.

Parking passes are generally sold on a semester-by-semester basis. Alternatives may be available for metered parking. I attended a commuter school without ever buying a parking pass by parking solely in metered parking when attending classes. However, I also budgeted for paying a few parking tickets when I didn’t refill the meter on time when staying late.

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Summer storage

If your son or daughter is going home for the summer, storage can be as little as $20 per month in the area. Check on rates ahead of time from local storage companies and whether they’ll also need an Uber or rental to get there. If they have a fully-furnished apartment, storage rates could jump to $100 or more per month.

On and off-campus fun

Your son or daughter will hopefully have a social life on campus. The good news is most schools offer a selection of free activities. This is an area where your student should call student government and see what a typical fun budget is and what it includes. Then you should approve or help them tweak it when they explain what expenses they’ll need to pay for. It’s a good exercise for your student who will soon have to budget without you being there.

Personal expenses such as laundry, clothing, and toiletries they’d normally borrow from you

As you know from your own budgeting, it’s the little expenses that can add up. Think about the toiletries (toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo, etc) your student uses that you currently share with the family. There are also more formal or career outfits they tend to borrow from you or older siblings. Include clothing and personal needs into any budget.

Greek life and on-campus clubs

This category incorporates both Greek life fees and campus clubs in all areas including professional ones. Your student should call student government and find out what clubs they might be interested in. Then contact the presidents of each club, organization or fraternity or sorority to find out what fees they may have to pay.

Meal plans and general dining expenses

Before selecting meal plans, have a realistic conversation with your student that you repeat each semester, about how often they’ll eat in the cafeteria. They may only eat there once or twice or eat cereal and milk out of small fridge in their room for breakfast. Also, estimate how many times they’ll eat out during the week including trips to the local coffee spot.

Health insurance

You’ll want some sort of health insurance for your child and possibly the school insurance on top of your insurance. To determine what health insurance you need, start by checking with your provider to find local doctors where your student will be living. You’ll want to make sure your network is sufficient for their new location.

Student health insurance can be a reasonably priced option and is offered by most schools. Finally, check with the school to see what services come out of the school health center. Some health centers have significantly more services than others and may have varying costs for prescriptions and co-pays.

Physical Fitness Activities

Physical fitness activities including sports are some of the healthiest activities your student can participate in. It’s a great way to stay active and meet new friends. Your student should call the on-campus recreation office to find out about what options there are that can range from organized camping to intramural sports.

Program Fees

There are varying fees for college majors and academic programs. Some schools require specific software, supplies, computers or other equipment. For instance, I mentor a student in a photojournalism school that rents out certain equipment, but she is still responsible for buying $3,000 in camera equipment by herself. She’ll be able to use the camera professionally for several years, but it would be difficult to come up with that amount of money at the last minute if it wasn’t budgeted for. Information on program fees and costs can be found from academic advisors within their major’s department.

This list is a starting point. Expenses change. Have a talk with your student on a semester-by-semester basis to budget together. If you and your student need to cover additional expenses, one option could be a private student loan or parent loan from College Ave Student Loans.


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