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Hidden college cost

The Hidden Costs of College

costs out of pocket college cost Mar 16, 2024

College financial aid packages should start arriving this month, but when you begin to compare your out-of-pocket costs, be sure to include expenses that go beyond room, board, and tuition. These costs may vary from one institution to another, but they add up quickly.


According to the College Board (2021-2022 academic year), full-time undergraduates at a four-year university spent an average of $1,240 on books and supplies. Buying new textbooks from the university bookstore is expensive. Students can look on Amazon, Cheapest Textbooks, or even Barnes and Noble, and they can also buy used textbooks to save money.

Another possibility is the campus library, though this option may not always be available because of the amount of text books available. When done with the books, consider reselling them.


Meal plans differ from college to college—buy the plan that best reflects the way you are likely to eat. According to the Education Data Initiative (August 2023), college students spend an average of $410 a month eating off campus, in addition to the average meal plan of $331. Food costs also vary depending on the location of the college.


Distance from home and availability of lower-cost travel options should be considered. If you will be traveling by air, buy tickets well in advance for peak travel periods such as Thanksgiving. Bringing a car to campus? Better add in the cost of parking, gas, and maybe some parking tickets.

Greek Life

Costs associated with going Greek can be expensive. In addition to chapter dues, initiation fees can range from hundreds to even thousands. Sometimes even higher costs are incurred when living in a sorority or fraternity house rather than in campus housing. Special activities also can be costly.

Club and Organization Fees

These can include fees for intramural sports, political groups, or professional organizations.

Studying Abroad

Expenses are often incurred including air travel, living expenses, and visas. Some colleges will provide stipends to cover additional expenses so that more students can experience a semester abroad.

Decorating and Furnishing Living Spaces

Dorms usually provide basic furniture and lighting. Students will need to provide their bedding, lamps, rugs, and posters. Once they move off campus, they may also need to buy furniture, beds, and kitchen supplies.

Emergency Expenses

Though unpredictable, they are inevitable, whether it is a trip to the emergency room, a car repair or a lost laptop. It is helpful to have some money reserved.


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