The Hidden Costs of College & How to Budget For Them

Your education may be priceless, but it still comes with a hefty price tag. You already know the general costs of going to college—tuition, housing, a meal plan and more. But sometimes, it’s the less obvious expenses at college that will really have you seeing dollar signs. From your academics, to your social life to your basic living habits, here’s a list of hidden costs you should anticipate and start saving for now!


Books and Supplies
When you head to the store to buy your textbooks, brace yourself for an inevitable hit to your bank account. A Student Monitor Study reported that students throw down an average of $330 for textbooks each semester! While it may be tempting to save time and grab the first full-price textbook you see, it’s always best to explore your options to find cheaper books. Tons of bookstores have jumped on the “rental bandwagon,” letting students borrow books for less. Companies like BookRenter, Chegg and Amazon are also known for their super-discounted book purchases and rentals. Some sites, such as Big Words, even do most of the work for you, comparing stores to make sure you get the most bang for your buck when buying or selling books.

On top of book expenses, some professors even require you to supply your own Scantron sheets for multiple choice tests, or blue books for essay tests. So buddy up with classmates, buy them in bulk and split the costs. Also, don’t forget about printer paper and ink! You’re bound to need it for all the papers you’ll be writing. You may also want to consider investing in your own printer to save yourself from late-night runs to the printing lab. And instead of spending money on expensive new ink packages, take old cartridges to a supply store and see if they can be refilled for less. If you’re a math, science or business major, you may also want to search around for the best price on a calculator or purchase a used one from online sites like Amazon.

Student Loans
According to Lynn O’Shaughnessy, author of Amazon bestseller The College Solution and a blog of the same name, student loans are some of the main hidden expenses. Most of the time, college students don’t really understand how loans work, she says. “It’s better if you can start paying them off while you’re in school. You can get used to paying for a loan so it doesn’t become this monster debt once you graduate.”

Some interest rates on loans are as low as three or four percent, while others are as high as 10 or 11 percent. She recommends taking out a federal loan versus a private student loan. Private student loans generally have higher interest, and this interest begins to accrue as soon as you start using the money. She also advises students sort out as many financial details with their parents (who’s paying for housing, transportation and tuition?) as possible before they ship off to school.

“It’s good to know what the cost of college is so you can prepare and talk to your parents about who’s going to have what responsibilities,” O’Shaughnessy says. If you’re splitting the cost with family members, you might want to draft an outline of who’s paying for what, just so everyone is on the same page!

Class Fees
Tuition fees can carry a lot of fine print. If you’re a science major, or if you’re trying to wrap up some Gen Ed classes, there is a good chance you’ll be taking a few courses in a laboratory. And sometimes, these lab classes tack on additional fees that help cover the cost of equipment and more. Make sure to talk to an advisor about other course options so you can save a few bucks if possible – some classes might have higher fees than others.