Hidden College Costs You May Not Have Budgeted For

We’ve all heard about the growing costs of higher education, as well as the many ways students can try to save money in college.

But there are an array of hidden college costs and expenses that may cause students and their families to struggle financially or borrow more than they planned.

If you’re heading to college or you have a dependent who is, you should know about all the surprising college costs to plan for. After all, arming yourself with knowledge is the best way to prevent overspending on college costs you may not have considered.

1. Room and board

Most families planning for college spend some time comparing tuition costs among their top schools of choice, which makes sense. However, they often fail to consider the cost of room and board in addition to average fees for college tuition, which can often be as much (or more) depending on the chosen school.

For example, figures from CollegeBoard show that, for the 2020-21 school year, average tuition at public, four-year, and in-state colleges and universities around the country worked out to $10,560. However, room and board in the same year worked out to an average of $11,620 nationwide.

This is probably why 77% of families in a College Ave Student Loans 2020 survey of 1,009 parents of undergraduate students said they were surprised by the cost of room and board, and that they paid more than they planned. College tuition costs are one thing, but you have to have shelter and a budget for food.

2. School and activity fees

Well over half (61%) of parents who answered College Ave on this topic also agreed that the cost of school and activity fees were higher than they realized. This is one area to plan for hidden college expenses. School and activity fees may be required for on-campus groups or student organizations or extra charges for extracurricular activities or events.

If a student is an athlete, then additional sports-related expenses for gear and training can also add up fast.

3. Books and school supplies

More than half (57%) of College Ave parent respondents also agreed that books and school supplies cost more than they had planned for. This makes sense if you think about it considering all the different things you have to buy and stock up on before you head off to college.

For example, students need book bags, notebooks, pens and pencils, paper, and desk accessories for their dorm. When you add in costs for required technology like a computer and printer and dorm room musts like a refrigerator or microwave, you can easily spend thousands of dollars.

4. Student personal expenses

Here’s another category of surprising college costs that appear to throw parents off guard: personal expenses. College Ave figures show that 51% of parents spent more than they realized on college personal expenses, which includes spending money.

After all, heading off to college doesn’t mean you no longer have a social life. And, what about paying for a cell phone? U.S. Mobile recently revealed statistics that show the average cell phone bill is $70 per month on its own, or $840 per year.

College kids also need clothing that changes with the seasons, and they need spending money to go out with friends. None of this is surprising, but the annual bill for these additional expenses can sure add up fast.

5. Transportation

Finally, let’s not forget about transportation, either. Kids have to get back and forth to school, whether that’s with public transportation or a car of their own. From there, there is the potential for parking expenses, or Uber or Lyft rides around town or out with friends. For students who keep a car on campus, there is also the cost of gas and insurance to account for.

According to figures from College Ave, 26% of parents paid more for student transportation than they thought they would.

How to Avoid a Big “Surprise” If You Encounter Hidden College Costs

The hidden college expenses we profiled above can catch you by surprise, but there are plenty of other unexpected costs to plan for. But there are a few ways you can stay prepared to avoid surprising college costs.

  1. Start Saving Early: Going to college is expensive. The best way to prepared is to start saving your money and to start saving early. If you have a 529 college savings plan for your child, this can help cover some hidden college expenses, among other costs.
  2. Ask friends and family for advice: If you have friends or family members who have kids in college, it can help to ask about costs they didn’t anticipate ahead of time. Finding out about surprise expenses other families have faced is a smart way to learn about them so you can plan ahead.
  3. Make a budget with your college student: It can also help to sit down with your student to create a monthly budget or spending plan. This strategy can help your dependent learn to live on a set amount of money each month while preventing overspending in discretionary categories like food and entertainment.
  4. Apply for Student Aid: Make sure you apply for any student aid you may be eligible for. This aid can help cover an array of college costs.
  5. Fill Out the FAFSA: Make sure you fill out the FAFSA (or Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for each year of higher education. This form helps schools and government agencies determine if you qualify for aid, and if so, how much. This is also the form you fill out to become eligible for federal student loans.
  6. Spend Less in College: There are a ton of creative ways to save money in college. For example, compare schools in terms of their costs and tuition fees as well as room and board. You can even consider having your college student live at home for a few years.
  7. Figure out where the small expenses can add up. Is your student doing a major that has lots of lab fees or equipment? What about travel home for the holidays? Has your student shown an interest in joining any social clubs or organizations on campus? Make sure you sit down with your student and picture where those out-of-pocket expenses will come from to help make a more accurate budget for school.

Attending college is worth the financial investment, but it’s crucial to make sure you don’t spend more than you have to. By planning for all potential hidden costs of college you’ll face and making smart decisions, you can pay less for school and borrow less as a result.



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