What Are Some Unexpected College Costs?

Incoming freshmen can encounter many expenses beyond room and board; be sure to budget for them.

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Much like buying a car, college can cost considerably more than the sticker price. Students usually plan for the typical expenses like room and board, textbooks, and meals, but Peter T. from Covington, Ky., wants to know:

Q: What are some of the most unexpected costs for incoming freshmen?

A: The price of success.

Michele Hernandez, president and founder, HernandezCollegeConsulting.com and ApplicationBootCamp.com One of the costs parents forget to factor in is the cost of visiting colleges the summer before applying. Between airfare—what if you want to visit Carleton College, some East Coast colleges, and perhaps Stanford?—, hotels, food, and time lost at work, college visits add up.

[Learn more about college visits.]

For students who live out of driving range for their prospective college, parents may want to look into a moving company to ship dorm necessities to campus. Many campuses now have services to furnish dorm rooms so most student would be better off just taking clothing/basics and then having towels, sheets, etc., shipped right to campus. Be sure to check in with roommates, as often they can supply items like stereo/TV/microwave if they live closer to campus. Most campuses let you rent small room refrigerators so you and your roommates may want to share costs of joint items depending on your living situation. Finally, colleges normally don't factor in the cost of textbooks and course materials, but they tend to run $500+ a term. You can save money by ordering used textbooks from places like Amazon.com. Many campus bookstores sell used books, so take advantage and sell your books back at the end of the term if you don't need them anymore.

A: Check the estimated cost of attendance. Many expenses are included.


Stacey Kostell, director of admissions, University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign Estimated cost breakdown of expenses include fixed costs (tuition, fees, room, and board) and unfixed (books, supplies, and other costs). However, know that your unfixed costs may be more or less than the listed estimates. Travel costs can vary widely depending on your distance from the school. You may also want to purchase season tickets for sports, a campus bus pass, or a recreation center fee if those are not included in your tuition. Depending on your major, there could be extra expenses for your classes. For example, art majors incur more fees for supplies than history majors. Some colleges may also charge fees for attending summer registration or orientation programs.

Lastly, add in the cost of items for your residence hall, such as bedding, towels, computer, printer, backpack, toiletries, etc. Initially, it may seem overwhelming, so plan for these costs now.

A: Budget early on for college costs—both applying and attending.


Katherine Cohen, founder and CEO, IvyWise and ApplyWise.com While many families budget for college tuition, room and board, and meal plans, they often forget to budget for lesser-known expenses that can add up. For example, incoming freshmen will need textbooks and they may also have lab fees, transportation costs for return trips home, or need spending money for social activities on or off campus. Plan to spend an additional 10 percent. Families just starting the college search process should also budget for the costs of actually applying to college. A family spends $3,500 on average, including standardized test fees, application fees, test prep, college visits, etc.

[Get tips for applying to college.]

A: The unanticipated cost of experiences.


Steve Loflin, founder and CEO, National Society of Collegiate Scholars Part of the college experience that is overlooked when budgeting are expenses related to learning experiences you can (and need to) have outside of the classroom. Many students may not anticipate how much they will need to spend when joining clubs, campus and local organizations and/or participating in recreational activities. Similarly, internships are becoming a must-have for the job market and they often pay very little, if at all. This is another example of an overlooked but necessary expense and experience that may require some imaginative planning to make sure it happens. Unanticipated costs exist, but with a resourceful approach they can be minimized. Get involved, budget creatively, and this will maximize your college experience overall.

A: Food for thought: eat, read, and save money.


James Montoya, vice president of higher education, The College Board Don't underestimate the cost of books. Even in this age of electronic media, most professors still expect students to buy books. The average annual cost of books for a college student ranges from $850 to $1000. Reading text books put on reserve in the library is one cost-saving option, but buying used books at reduced prices, though a more expensive alternative, is definitely more convenient and reliable. And don't forget, late-night reading leads to late-night eating, another unexpected cost. Have reasonably priced snacks on hand (especially those sent from home), and save those late-night pizza runs for the weekend.

Visit the Unigo Expert Network for 20 more experts revealing costs you aren't considering, and to have your own questions answered.