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The Hidden Costs of College

With all the recent buzz about student loans, the skyrocketing price of higher education is a hot topic – but the financial impact of college goes far beyond just tuition. Plenty of secondary expenses aren’t factored into college “sticker prices,” and many of them don’t become apparent until after students get to campus. From parking to Greek life, students should take note of these expenses when figuring out a sustainable budget for the school year:


Dorm Room: Most college dorm rooms come with a bed, a desk, and a few drawers. Students are responsible for providing everything else: lamps, rugs, pillows, bedding, hangers, etc. Take advantage of back-to-school sales and reach out to your roommate/s to split the cost of shared items. Go to your school’s Facebook page and see if upperclassmen on your campus have listed old furniture and dorm items for sale. Check Craigslist and thrift stores for gently used furniture and appliances.


Textbooks: Buying brand new books from the school bookstore can cost hundreds of dollars easily. Luckily, there are many resources for used books. Sites like and offer used books at a much more affordable price, and rent out books at an even cheaper rate. These sites, and many others, will also buy back your books at the end of the semester. Also, reach out to upperclassmen and recent grads to see if they’re selling or giving away their books. Your school bookstore may also offer a rental program; some will rent books at half price provided they are returned in good condition at the end of the term.


Travel: Many students get hit hard by inflated travel prices when heading home during holidays. To cut back on travel costs, carpool: use Facebook, Craigslist and your school’s website find other students heading in your direction. And rather than taking the train or a plane, consider taking MegaBus, Bolt Bus,or WorldWide Bus, where one-way tickets can cost under $20.


Greek Life/Student Organization Dues: Many students join extracurricular groups to socialize and get involved on campus, but Greek life can come with a steep price. Fraternity and sorority dues can range anywhere from $1000 to $4000 a year, and rush activities often require additional purchases. Before rush, look into the national sorority/fraternity organizations for financial aid and scholarship offerings.  Student organizations like performing arts groups and community service clubs also have fees, which go toward group activities, meeting spaces, apparel, trips, etc.


Local Transportation/Parking: Driving on campus may be convenient, but on many college campuses, especially in big cities, parking fees are through the roof. Some urban colleges charge around $1000 for a year of on campus parking – and if your meter runs out before class ends, those parking tickets add up fast. Before you decide to bring a car, look into public transportation and think hard about whether you’ll actually need a car at school.


Lab Fees: Computer and science classes often charge around $100 lab fees. These fees aren’t calculated into tuition, and get tacked on after course registration. Fees go toward class expenses like computer software or lab chemicals.


Off-Campus Housing: At some schools, students can only live on campus for their first year; after that, they’re on their own. For students in big city settings, off-campus housing costs a lot more than university room and board. It’s tempting to have your own room when you live off-campus, but having with a roommate to split the cost of rent and furnishings will make a big difference. Some schools also have co-ops, where you can rent a room cheaply in exchange for upkeep of the house.


In addition to these major costs, think about the little items that will add up throughout the year, from shampoo to bus fare to pizzas. Don’t get caught by surprise with an empty bank account halfway through the semester! By planning ahead and anticipating the extra costs of college, students can create a realistic budget they can stick with for the duration of the year.


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