Top 10 Hidden Costs of College

College is more than just tuition and fees. Learn how to budget for the hidden costs of college and save money in school.
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  • Students must account for more than tuition when budgeting for college.
  • Hidden fees can include the cost of textbooks, transportation, and joining a club.
  • Participating in Greek life and living off campus also impact how much students spend.
  • Students can find ways to save money by renting books and finding on-campus jobs.

Incoming college students need to prepare to pay for more costs than just tuition. The hidden costs of college can easily add up and tend to catch students by surprise.

But planning for these hidden fees can be difficult. A June 2020 uAspire study examined 820 college websites and found that 39% of these institutions did not display information about indirect costs.

Here, we go over the most important hidden costs of college you should know.

1. Books and Class Materials

Though required by almost every course, textbooks and other school supplies are not included in the cost of tuition.

During the 2021-22 academic year, full-time undergraduates at four-year institutions spent an average of $1,240 on books and supplies, according to the College Board. Many students purchase their textbooks directly from their university, leading to increased costs.

Fortunately, students can find ways to save money on college textbooks by comparison shopping, renting books, and reselling books once the class finishes.

2. Travel and Transportation Costs

Students who live off campus must account for transportation costs in their budgets. Even on-campus students should plan for some transportation costs to cover trips home and/or trips during school breaks.

According to the College Board, college students at public, four-year institutions spent an average of $1,230 on transportation during the 2021-22 academic year.

Students can save money by looking for cheaper flights, splitting accommodation costs with friends, and carpooling if possible. Public transportation may also help students keep costs down.

3. Lifestyle and Social Costs

Part of the college experience for students is socializing with friends. Students can incur hidden costs through mundane activities like seeing movies, eating out, and having drinks with friends. These costs are often small, but can quickly add up if students don't pay attention to their finances.

While you can save cash by taking advantage of free, on-campus social events, make sure to budget for time you spend off campus with friends.

4. Food Beyond the Meal Plan

According to, students spend an average of $341 each month eating off campus. This includes fees like getting groceries, eating out with friends, and ordering takeout from nearby restaurants.

Students often overlook the expense of eating out when creating a budget as the cost of those meals isn't included in the price of a college meal plan.

The cost of off-campus dining can also differ depending on the cost of living in the area. For example, a student living in a large city may pay more for groceries than a student in a small town.

5. Having a Car on Campus

Having a car on campus can be expensive. Students must account for fees such as purchasing a parking pass to park on campus and/or at off-campus housing, gas, and even parking tickets.

Car maintenance can also add up, from services for normal wear and tear — like oil changes — to larger repairs due to damage from car accidents.

6. Greek Life Dues and Fees

While Greek life is a fixture of the American college experience, many students don't realize the fees associated with joining a sorority or fraternity. The cost of Greek life can range from $600-$6,000 per semester, depending on the sorority or fraternity. And this amount doesn't even cover additional costs like rush and alumni fees.

When deciding whether Greek life is worth it, students should budget for hidden costs like dues, chapter activities, and room and board.

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7. Furnishing and Decorating Your Home

Most students move multiple times throughout their college experience, including changing dorm rooms and moving off campus. Colleges generally expect students to provide some furniture for their dorm rooms, such as couches or futons, lamps, and rugs. Many students also decorate their rooms with additional lights, posters, and pictures.

Students who live off campus may need additional furniture and kitchenware. These costs can quickly add up, so consider reusing what you can from year to year.

8. Professional Attire and New Clothing

Students may need to purchase new clothes for college, including new winter clothes if they attend a university in a harsher climate. Purchasing business attire is another essential cost.

Many students pursue internships, attend networking events and career fairs, and undergo job interviews — all events that require business attire. It's important to look professional and make a good impression on future employers, but clothing isn't always cheap.

9. Club and Organization Fees

Starting a club or joining an existing organization is a fun way for students to get involved in campus life. College clubs and organizations often include intramural sports, student publications, and political groups, which can provide social and professional opportunities.

However, most clubs require students to pay dues to help with upkeep and cover the cost of running the organization. Depending on the organization, students may also need to pay for travel and equipment.

10. Emergency Expenses

Budgeting for emergency expenses can enable students to feel more in control of their finances when problems arise. Most students will experience some unforeseen expense during their time in college, whether it's a car breaking down, a medical emergency, or a sudden change in travel plans.

If possible, set aside some funds at the beginning of each school year in case of an emergency. This will help you cope with unplanned events when they arise.

How to Budget and Pay for Hidden College Costs

College students can account for the hidden costs of college through planning and consideration.

First, students should make a budget and try to stick to it throughout the year. Budgeting allows you to understand how much money you have to spend after tuition expenses.

Students can also save money by considering alternatives such as public transportation versus owning a car or renting versus buying textbooks.

There are different ways to make money on a college campus to offset expenses as well. Students can find on-campus jobs to pay for hidden costs while making the most of their college experience.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute professional financial advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Readers of this website should contact a professional advisor before making decisions about financial issues.

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