The Hidden Costs of College Really Add Up

Keeping track of extra costs such as parking fees and copy machines can make college more affordable.

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Forget the meal plan and new computer—those costs pale in comparison with the unexpected expenses that add up each month, from vitamins to stave off exam-season colds to formalwear for the next big Saturday night soiree.

Here are 16 often-overlooked items that you might want to budget for, along with their estimated costs: 

Storage containers:Not only do students haul all of their worldly possessions to and from school each year, but their dorm rooms often have skimpy dressers and closets. Plastic drawers that stack or slide under beds can mean the difference between total chaos and a reasonably organized wardrobe. Hooks, coat racks, and laundry baskets also help. ($250, the Container Store) 

Gym membership: Many colleges and universities include the cost of gym membership in tuition, but some schools, such as Michigan State and Penn, charge for gym access. Even at other schools, students usually pay extra for yoga, dance, and exercise classes that help fight off the "freshman 15." ($80 per semester, Michigan State)

Parking and car registration fees: As more students look at schools closer to home, a growing number will also be driving to campus, both for the semester and for the day. Car registration fees can cost a couple of hundred dollars per semester; street parking, gas, maintenance, and insurance can add even more. ($247 per semester for students who live on campus and $128 for commuters, University of Maryland)

The latest iPod incarnation: Students use iPods while they walk to class, study in a crowded library, and fall asleep in noisy dorm rooms. Whether you spring for the flashy iPod Touch or simpler Shuffle, you'll probably find a way to get those white buds in your ears. ($229, iPod Touch)

School pride gear: Cheering for the UCLA Bruins, Kansas Jayhawks, or Ohio Bobcats often requires T-shirts, banners, and other gear emblazoned with the school mascot. ($80, Jayhawk hat and matching pullover jacket)

Formalwear: Typical Saturday night going-out clothes vary by region, but almost all schools host a handful of formal occasions each year, ranging from casino nights to Greek events to old-fashioned dances. With party dresses and suits going for upwards of $100, that's no cheap date night. ($180, silk chiffon Juliet dress from J. Crew)

Sleeping gear: Getting a full night's rest in a dorm with a roommate who likes to stay on Facebook all night isn't easy, but with an eye mask and earplugs it becomes a little more manageable. ($17.70, Magellan's Lights Out Sleep Mask and earplugs)

Flu-fighting vitamins: Close living quarters combined with all-nighters, a poor diet, and stress can lead to lingering coughs and runny noses. A daily vitamin can boost the body's immune system and help students get all the nutrients they may be missing at the dining hall. ($13.99 for 180 Centrum Complete Multivitamin Tablets)

Pharmaceuticals: In case the vitamins don't stave off every infection, students will need to head to the pharmacy to fight off any lingering illnesses. And while student health centers often see students for little or no charge (after the mandatory annual fees), over-the-counter treatments can add up. ($30, cold medicine tablets, cough suppressant, and cough drops)

Entertainment: Even if your housing fee covers cable, you probably will still want to stay in for the occasional movie night (especially if you're recovering from that cold). In some cases, students spring for more complex diversions, such as the Nintendo Wii. ($13.99 per month for two DVDs a month from Netflix; $250 for Nintendo Wii)

Alone time: Getting away for some peace and quiet after nights of fun and days of crowded libraries can mean as little as a few hours at the local coffee shop, but the effect on your state of mind will be priceless. ($3, tall latte at Starbucks)

Visiting friends: If you thought your college tour ended with an admissions letter, think again. You'll probably want to stay in touch with high school friends who attend nearby schools, so plan for weekends of catch-up. ($64, round-trip Greyhound bus fare from Austin to Dallas)