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College Expenses List: Make Sure You Budget for These 11 Hidden Costs

Going to college can be very expensive. And while you’re probably aware of the high cost of tuition, room and board, you should also be prepared to pay for other items — a lot of other items — that will likely end up on your college expenses list.

Here’s a breakdown of some extra hidden college expenses that can add up to more than you might anticipate:

1. Transportation
2. School supplies
3. Technology
4. Participating in Greek life
5. Travel
6. New clothes, including business attire
7. Extra credit hours
8. Food beyond the meal plan
9. Test registration
10. Reduced financial aid
11. Emergency expenses
● Plus: Other unexpected college expenses
● Plus: Conserving your college costs

1. Transportation

If you’re a commuter student, driving to and from class is likely a necessity. That means you’ll need to budget for gas, repairs and insurance. Plus, you might have to pay for a resident student parking pass, which can add up to hundreds of dollars.

If you don’t need a car to get around, you might be better off leaving it at home, as university parking passes can cost in the hundreds of dollars. And if you end up with a parking ticket on-campus, you could spend anywhere from a couple of bucks to nearly $100, depending on where you parked.

If you need to go off campus, look into public transportation options or consider biking, walking or ride-sharing through Uber, Lyft or Zipcar. Plus, if most of your time will be spent walking to and from your dorm to other parts of campus, a car might not even be necessary.

2. School supplies

Textbooks, supplies and other resources like access to lab time or classroom materials aren’t included in tuition and college costs.

A 2022 study found the average textbook costs about $105, and that full-time, in-state undergraduate students at four-year public universities spend an average of $1,226 for books and supplies per academic year.

Textbook costs may vary by course of study, so you could pay more to complete your major than your peers who’re studying other subjects.

To conserve costs while saving for college, buy your pens, notebooks, and school supplies online — not at the potentially overpriced campus bookstore.

Likewise, try to buy used textbooks. You could also ask your professor or instructor if a recently outdated and cheaper edition of the text is acceptable for class.

3. Technology

Even if you start college with a shiny new laptop or phone, chances are you might need to repair or fix your devices in the future. Regular wear and tear could force you to buy new electronics, not to mention theft or accidents.

Since it’s more a case of “when” than “if” you’d need to replace one or more of your devices, you might want to start saving up now. Try to prepare by setting aside some money each week or month for this purpose.

You can also look into used laptops or phones to save money, or make use of your school’s computer lab.

4. Participating in Greek life

While you may want the experience of becoming a member of a fraternity or sorority, pledging generally doesn’t come free. In fact, it can be a particularly expensive additional college cost.

For instance, new sorority members at University of Colorado Boulder’s Chi Omega paid up $1,592 in dues and $12,000 to live in the sorority house in 2021-22, according to the university.

Some studies show that an inclusive social life on campus may help students graduate on time, however — so the cost may be worth it if it can help you enjoy your college experience.

5. Travel

If you’re living far from home and want to see friends and family, you’ll likely have to factor in the cost of traveling once or twice a year to visit.

Some routes will be especially pricey — if you’re a New Englander seeking your education in L.A., traveling back to the East Coast to see family could mean spending a large chunk of money in airfare annually.

And for parents visiting their children in college, hotel and rental car costs, including gas driving to and from campus, can add up.

Redeeming travel miles from a rewards credit card can help ease the cost of traveling for both students and their parents. The most efficient way to save, however, may be to book your tickets as far in advance as possible.

6. New clothes, including business attire

Moving from a warmer climate to attend a school where snow is the norm may mean spending to update your cold-weather wardrobe.

College students may also need to budget for purchasing business attire for attending career fairs or going on interviews for internships and jobs. Even if you avoid pricier brands, your first investment in business attire could cost you hundreds.

Check to see if your school provides a special clothing donation fund, or if your school’s career center has a public closet with jackets or ties to borrow. If your budget is tight, try renting a suit or appropriate professional outfit, which could be cheaper than buying an ensemble you wear just once.

7. Extra credit hours

Extra credit hour fees are usually imposed on students who take on more credit hours than the standard amount to complete a degree. This can help incentivize students to graduate on time, but it can come at a cost for some students.

No matter where you attend school, consult with an academic advisor to discuss how to best finish your degree on time and the implications of changing majors. With the right academic plan, you could end up avoiding taking on more college costs or debt.

And if you’re still unsure about what major you want to pursue, consider community college as a way to complete prerequisites that can transfer to the university level. Or, see if some courses can count towards multiple credit requirements. This could help you graduate on time — or even early, in some cases.

8. Food beyond the meal plan

Dining out on pizza, chicken wings and burgers — no matter how cheap — can add up. Even if you try to avoid ordering out, social pressures and simple convenience could have you eating at least some restaurant food.

You can save on these costs by cooking your own meals, even if you only have a microwave or slow cooker. For off-campus apartment dwellers, it’s easier if you have a kitchen at your disposal.

Use coupons and apps when grocery shopping to find discounts as you shop. And if eating out is a must, seek out restaurants and eateries in your college town that offer student discounts.

9. Test registration

For the graduate school-bound, taking the Graduation Record Examination (GRE) — or any other standardized test — can be a major expense.

The fee to take the GRE is about $205, and will cost you an additional $50 if you cancel or alter your test date. Plus, GRE test preparation services can range anywhere from $20 to $100. Don’t like your score? You’ll need to pay the full fee to take it all over again.

You’ll have plenty of time to plan and save up for exams if graduate school is something you want to pursue, however. You can also seek out a test fee waiver — check out our guide to saving money on grad school applications to find out how.

10. Reduced financial aid

The amount of financial aid you receive could change after freshman year. Some schools “front-load” financial aid packages, sending enticing offers to first-year students but then decreasing aid as the years go on.

You might also have a scholarship or grant that’s not renewable for all four years of your education. In addition, your family’s financial situation could change, resulting in a higher Estimated Family Contribution and less federal aid money.

To prepare for a decrease in aid, make sure to study your financial aid package thoroughly. Find out if your grant and scholarship offers are renewable for all four years, and if there’s anything you’d need to do to remain eligible or reapply.

11. Emergency expenses

You never know when a family emergency or another personal situation could put you in immediate need of money. To prepare for these expenses, try setting aside some money in an emergency fund.

If you’re working a part-time job during college, you could automatically transfer a percentage of your income into this account every month. Slowly but surely, your savings will grow, and you’ll have a cushion in case of an emergency.

Other unexpected college expenses

While the previously mentioned costs are overhead you should budget for, they’re certainly not the only ones. Here are some other hidden college expenses to consider as you plan for your post-secondary education:

  • Money for laundry
  • Entertainment
  • Studying abroad
  • Textbooks
  • Medical expenses
  • Wi-Fi or other technology expenses
  • Cellphone bill
  • Decor and furnishing for dorm/apartment
  • College club fees
  • Intramural sports fees

Conserving your college costs

The cost of college is more than just tuition. Make sure you determine if any of the above expenses apply to your situation before you begin applying for schools, and save accordingly.

Ideally, by finding ways to save money, you’ll take out fewer student loans and be responsible for less debt after graduation.

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