Parents are typically thrilled when their child earns a full ride to an expensive college. But the “ride” is often for tuition only, and families sometimes find themselves unprepared to pay for everything else. Unfortunately, the comprehensive fee a college lists on its website is typically not all-inclusive.
You know about tuition, room, board, and books, but are you aware of other sizeable expenses?
Comforts of home. “Sometimes it’s a surprise to walk into an empty dorm room to see a couple of twin beds and that’s it,” says Lauren Herskovic, COO at Admissionado, an admissions consulting. Students may find they need a microwave, clothing rack, and other creature comforts.
Travel and transportation. “Students living in a city may need public transportation—buses, subways—to get from here to there, while those attending school in the middle of nowhere might find themselves needing to rent a car now and then,” says Herskovic.
Commuters or resident students who bring a car to school should budget for gas, maintenance, insurance, permits, and the occasional parking ticket. “Depending on the school, a private parking space can cost as much as $1,000,” says Julie Rains, a personal finance writer and parent.
And there’s getting to and from home. Students attending school far away can bear significant transportation costs during peak travel times, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break.
Health insurance. College admissions counselor Jodi Rosenshein Atkin says that even if you can provide proof of insurance coverage, some schools might not waive the fee for the school-based policy. This means that even students who remain on their parents’ insurance—currently allowed for children up to age 26 under the Affordable Care Act – can be forced to pay for the school policy.
“It can be an expensive, unavoidable purchase,” Atkin says.
Social life. Unless your daughter or son spends 100 percent of their time on campus (an unlikely scenario), expect “going out” costs as part of the college experience. And keep in mind that a student going to school in New York City will pay far more for dining and entertainment than a student in, say, Kansas.
Greek life. “The cost of joining a fraternity or sorority will vary by campus and Greek organization,” says Janet Ruth Heller, who taught for 35 years at eight colleges and universities. A 2016 U.S.News.com post, for example, revealed that sororities at the University of Southern California average around $1,800 per semester in dues.
Sports. Supporting the school’s athletic teams can get really pricey. “The cost varies,” says Heller, “depending upon the school’s size and the prestige of the NCAA division.”
In 2013, for example, the average price of a ticket to watch the Duke Blue Devils play a home game against rival North Carolina was $1,728! Presumably students could purchase tickets at a lower “student rate,” but even those can be costly and hard to obtain, so the outlay for athletic events at a big-time sports school can be substantial.
Jobs and internships. “The costs here come mainly from the search—buying a nice interview outfit and covering travel expenses,” says Herskovic. “If you land an unpaid internship in a big city, then you’ll have rent, transportation, and food to cover.”
Graduate exams. “This is an expense that can really sneak up on you,” says Herskovic. “Registration fees —GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, etc.—can be hundreds of dollars, and you may find yourself having to retake them if you’re unhappy with your score.”
Emergencies. “From an accidental hole in the wall to a flat tire, life doesn’t stop coming at you just because you’re in college,” says Brian Morris of DirectTextbook.com. “It’s imperative for students to have an emergency fund to account for such events without wrecking their budgets.”
While the college-bound might not encounter all these hidden expenses, they—and by extension, their parents—are bound to get hit with some. So, take them into consideration when planning for the cost of higher education. And for some parents, that means being proactive about including them in a child-support settlement should divorce be on the horizon.
Janet Ruth Heller
Dear Mary Fetzer,
Thank you for posting this helpful article and for including my comments. I'm sure that this advice will be useful for families planning to send someone to college and for the students themselves.
Janet Ruth Heller, Ph.D.