Make Sure You Budget for These 8 Hidden College Costs

Everyone knows that going to college isn’t cheap.

The average cost of tuition and fees is currently around $32,400 a year for private college students and nearly $24,000 per school year for out-of-state residents attending public universities, according to COLLEGEdata.

However, these dollar figures don’t account for all college costs. There is a host of other extra, hidden costs that can quickly add up to more than you might have anticipated.

As the school year starts up again, don’t get caught by surprise by one of these unexpected college costs.

1. Keeping a car on campus

If you’re a commuter student, driving to and from class is a likely necessity. That means you’ll need to budget for gas, repairs, and insurance. That can raise the overall cost of college for you.

But if you plan to live on-campus or out of state, you’ll have to pay for all those expenses. Plus, a resident student parking pass.

Some campuses may charge quite a high fee for a yearly parking pass. For instance, at Ohio State University, a parking pass can cost $800 per year.

And if you end up with a parking ticket on-campus, you could spend anywhere from a couple of bucks to nearly $100, depending on where you parked.

If you need to get off-campus, consider biking, walking, or ride-sharing through Uber, Lyft, or Zipcar. Plus, if most of your time will be spent walking to and from your dorm to other parts of campus, maybe a car isn’t that necessary anyways.

2. Greek life

While becoming a member of a fraternity or sorority may be a great college experience, pledging isn’t usually free. In fact, it can be one of the most expensive college costs there is.

New sorority members at the University of Central Florida’s Delta Delta Delta house paid more than $2,300 a semester to go Greek last year. Meanwhile, new frat brothers at the same university paid close to $900 per semester to join the elite Kappa Sigma branch.

Joining Greek life midway through the semester won’t get you a discount, either. You’ll most likely still owe your full year’s dues.

Yet, some studies show that an inclusive social life on campus may help students graduate on time. So the costs may be worth it if they help you avoid extending your time at college and paying more in student loans.

3. School supplies

Textbooks, supplies and other resources like access to lab time or classroom materials aren’t included in tuition and college costs.

According to The College Board, a yearly estimate of books and supplies for the average in-state full-time undergraduate student at a four-year public college is about $1,298.

Textbook costs may vary by the course of study as well. That means you could be paying more to study your major than your peers who are in other majors.

To conserve costs while saving for college, buy your pens, notebooks, and school supplies online — not at the overpriced campus bookstore.

The same goes for textbooks: buy them used. Or, ask your professor or instructor if a recently outdated and cheaper edition of the text is acceptable for class.

4. Travel

Unless you never intend to see your family until you graduate in four years, you’ll have to factor in the cost of traveling at least once or twice a year to visit home.

If you’re a student at the University of Alaska in Anchorage, and your family lives in Miami, this can mean hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars in airfare annually to fly from one point of the country to another.

And for parents visiting their children in college, hotel and rental car costs will need to factor into the budget. You may need to save up some money for gas driving to and from campus as well.

Redeeming travel miles from a rewards credit card can help ease the cost of traveling for both students and their parents. The most efficient way to save, however, may be to book your tickets as far in advance as possible.

5. Wardrobe and business attire

Moving from a warmer climate to attend a school where snow falls in the winter may mean incorporating costs to update your cold weather wardrobe.

Yet, students may also need to budget for purchasing business attire for attending career fairs as well as going on interviews for internships and jobs. Even without designer clothing, a college student’s first business attire can cost hundreds of extra dollars.

Check to see if your school provides a special clothing donation fund, or if your school’s career center has a public closet with jackets or ties to borrow. If costs are tight, try renting a suit or business outfit. This is far cheaper than buying an ensemble you wear only once.

6. Extra credit hours

Extra credit hour fees are usually college costs imposed on students who may change majors or drop classes, ultimately taking longer to complete their degrees than expected.

Last year, about 3,770 students from various Florida public universities were charged $2.35 million in extra credit hour fees, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The state-mandated fee, notes the University of South Florida, is charged to each credit hour that’s in addition to the 110 percent of the hours estimated to complete a degree. USF recommends on its website to avoid waiting too long to declare a major so you don’t get slammed with extra credit hour fees.

No matter where you attend school in the country, always consult with an academic advisor to discuss the implications of changing majors. You could end up avoiding taking on more college costs or debt with the right academic plan.

And if you’re still unsure about what major you want to pursue, consider community college as a way to complete prerequisites that can transfer to the university level. Or, see if some courses can count towards multiple credits. This can help you graduate on time, or in some cases, early.

7. Eating in and out

Dining out on pizza, chicken wings, and Chinese food — no matter how cheap — can quickly cost a small fortune if you’re ordering out every single night.

But campus meal plans are often just as expensive. In fact, the University of Louisiana charges students nearly $4,000 a meal plan for the entire school year — roughly $125 per week.

You can save on these costs by cooking your own meals, even if you’ve only got a microwave or slow cooker. For off-campus apartment dwellers, it’s easier if you’ve got a burner or kitchen at your disposal.

Use coupons and apps when grocery shopping to find discounts as you shop. And if eating out is a must, seek out restaurants and eateries in your college town that give students discounts.

8. Test registration

For the graduate school bound, taking the Graduation Record Examination, or any other entry exam can cost a pretty penny.

If you’re not taking the test in China, then a standard GRE fee is about $205, while late registration penalties are $25. It will also cost you an additional $50 if you cancel or alter your test date. Fail the exam, and you’ll need to pay the full fee to take it all over again.

Unfortunately, some of these fees are most likely unavoidable. Graduate testing is usually mandatory to continue into a master’s or doctoral level of higher education.

Thankfully, you’ll have plenty of time to plan and save up for entry tests if graduate school is something you want to pursue. And it doesn’t cost anything extra if you pass!

Conserving your college costs

The cost of college is more than just tuition, but it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg to get a good education and follow through to your degree.

Make sure you determine if any of the above expenses apply to your situation before you begin applying for schools.

Saving for college, however, should be your top priority at all times. Start up a 529 Savings Plan as early as possible to fund college expenses, or any other interest-bearing savings accounts.

By finding ways to save money and cut back on expenses, you’ll borrow less money through student loans and be responsible for less debt after graduation.

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