The Hidden Costs of College
There's more than just tuition and room and board to worry about
Tuition paid, check. Room and board paid, check. There's more? You bet. Textbooks and electronics can add many hundreds of dollars to the first year's college expenses. Throw in transportation, cellphone bills, a comfy beanbag chair for the dorm room, and late-night forays to In-N-Out Burger, and the total may stagger you. Plan on an extra $5,000, give or take, to carry you through your first year on campus.
Here is a budget checklist. It takes into account research by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and the College Board's Annual Survey of Colleges (CB) and ratchets up their estimates to include unexpected incidentals. We have tried to select the most economical price tag.
Textbooks and school supplies. Paper, legal pads, notebooks, files, pencils, pens, printer ink, stapler, scissors, tape, ruler, calculator: $904 (CB)
Clothes. Flip-flops, etc.: $212.78 (NRF)
Electronics. Cellphone, computer, TV, DVD/VCR player, software, iPod, digital camera, printer, MP3 player, stereo/CD, PlayStation 2, video-game player, surge protector, extension cords, alarm clock: $727.50 (NRF). Could be much higher if you're buying a laptop.
Dorm furnishings. Bedspreads, comforter, sheets, backrest, bath towels, lamps, comfy chair, laundry basket, wastebasket, posters, bookcase, whiteboard, bulletin board: $344.41 (NRF)
Other living essentials. Toiletries: $30; laundry and cleaning supplies: $25; mini-refrigerator ($119) or microfridge (combination microwave and refrigerator): $379 to buy, $200 to rent for school year (campusspec.com; microfridge.com); toaster oven: $40; coffeemaker: $50; blender: $30; Brita pitcher/filters: $25; microwave: $80; hair dryer: $18; cordless vacuum: $30; fan: $25
Transportation. $691 to $1,168 (CB)
Entertainment-movies, concerts, clubs, DVDs and rentals, CDs: $100 per semester is a reasonable estimate; campuses offer a lot of freebies, and students share DVDs and CDs.
Sorority/fraternity fees: Annual range: $100 to $500
Cellphone service: $50 to $150 per month depending on what plan you have, whom you talk to, and who the primary caller is. Check which provider has the best service on campus. Usage is probably going to go up; your friends will use different services and make frequent calls during the day. Room phones are dinosaurs.
Cable TV: $30 per month. Pretty pricey considering most common areas have a TV with free cable access.
Food and beverages: $15 to $30 per week, in addition to meal plan. This will fluctuate; at Cornell, for example, you can use Big Red Bucks from the meal plan not just in the dining hall but even at campus convenience stores and vending machines.
Student health insurance: $1,000 to $1,500 annually. Accident coverage anywhere in the world. Many parents opt for this.
Hotels/restaurants for parents' weekend/orientation: $500 to $800l
High school grads can avoid the hassle of returning itchy sweaters and get what they really want with an online gift registry at stores like Sharper Image and REI. Review registry options at www.usnews.com/extras
This story appears in the September 18, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.