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Understanding the Hidden Costs of College

When considering planning for higher education, you might be surprised to discover that college tuition and fees are not necessarily the largest associated costs. As students begin this next phase of life, looking at the college’s published cost of attendance is a good idea. These are estimated costs (usually produced in conjunction with the college) that change depending on the student’s chosen major, classroom curriculum, campus activity, and personal lifestyle.

There may also be other education-related costs to consider such as:

  • Admission tests and applications
  • Classroom materials and textbooks
  • Dropping classes or registering late
  • Extra classes or specific major study sessions
  • Lab and tutoring sessions
  • Per-use charges for campus amenities
  • Post-undergraduate or licensing exams
  • Sorority and club membership fees

One recent report found that if you want to live on campus, you can expect to pay $27,330 per year for an in-state, four-year public university. This includes $10,740 for tuition, $11,950 for room and board, $1,240 for books and supplies, $1,230 for transportation, and $2,170 for other expenses.1

In some cases, undergraduates apply for grant aid to cover the non-tuition expenses. Unfortunately, grants might only cover a small portion, leaving the student responsible for the remainder. Most of these non-tuition personal living expenses associated with attending college could be overwhelming to an underestimated budget. To make ends meet, some students may find it necessary to get a part-time job.

Student Daily Living

  • Cable/satellite TV/cell phone
  • Replacing damaged or lost property
  • Healthcare  
  • Housing and dorm furnishings
  • Laundry 
  • Meals outside of the meal plan
  • Parking and transportation
  • Renter’s insurance 

Students leaving campus to join family and friends during semester and holiday breaks are opportunities for parents and students to review and adjust their budgeted living expenses. It is highly recommended for both students and parents to be involved in the planning process. These conversations are valuable lessons and offer students an opportunity to manage their own spending budgets as they prepare for the future.


Whether the student attends a large university or small college, they will still face the challenge of planning for non-tuition expenses. The choice of attending a large university offering a wider range of degrees, more clubs, greater resources, and greater access to alumni or a small college with more personalized attention for each student can ultimately come down to these extra costs. Be sure to think them through carefully before making such an important life decision. Talking to a financial planner is a great way to gain extra knowledge and move forward with confidence.

  1. https://research.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/trends-college-pricing-student-aid-2021.pdf

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