Unexpected College Expenses

by Emily Guy Birken

We all know that college is an expensive venture. Between tuition, room and board, books, and dining plans, college expenses can average as much as $7,500-$11,000 for a state school and $27,000 per year for a private four-year institution, according to the College Board. Unfortunately for students and parents, however, that does not necessarily tell the entire financial story. There can be a lot of costs associated with college that the financial aid department might not tell you about. Here are some of the unexpected expenses you might need to plan for:

1. Health Care. Many schools require students to be covered by some sort of health insurance. If you are still on your parents’ insurance plan and it will work for you while on campus, then there is no reason to fix something that’s not broken. But if you need to buy into the student insurance, expect to pay as much as $2,000 per year—although many schools’ plans are much less expensive.

unexpected college costs

Don't forget the cost of graduation!

2. Student Activity Fees. Large universities in particular are well-known for charging activity fees to all students—even those who do not live on campus. The activity fee will pay for everything from bringing major speakers and musicians to campus to keeping fitness facilities up-to-date. Student activity fees can range from $100 to $300 per year. Since you have to pay them, make sure you get your money’s worth by taking in the campus social events and working out at the gym. It will enrich your college experience.

3. Parking. The bane of large university existence is trying to find a place to park your car within the same zip code as your class or the library. There’s a premium for parking spots on campus, and you will have to pay for the privilege of having your car—some schools even charge a fee to register your car on campus. The cost for parking on most campuses can range from $250 to $600. Even when you have shelled out for a parking pass, you may still find yourself hoofing it or taking a campus shuttle, so know that the price you pay does not necessarily buy you a good place to park.

4. Going Greek. If you decide to join a fraternity or a sorority, know that you will probably be paying about $2,000 per year for the privilege of being a member and living in the house. Some Greek organizations will allow you to become a member while living elsewhere, which can be a cheaper option.

5. General Expenses. These include laundry, dinners out, toiletries, linens, etc. Even if you are heading to a fully furnished dorm room and a 21 meals per week dining plan, there will still be some general life expenses that you should prepare for. Scavenging quarters for laundry every week (or to buy more shampoo when you run out) can be a demoralizing exercise if you have not budgeted for it. Plan ahead for all the little living expenses that everyone must face so that you’re not forced to call home for money—and become a living cliché.

Don’t forget to take these additional expenses into consideration when saving for college. When you consider all the extras, you might want to consider putting a little extra into your 529 College Savings Plan each month!

Photo credit: Jason Bache.

Published or updated June 20, 2011.
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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Pat S.

Especially now that parents can maintain their children on their insurance policies until age 26, it makes a lot less sense to pay for those expenses, rather than maintain under the parent’s insurance umbrella for a little longer.


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