The Hidden Costs of College


So, you and your family have just paid your gazillion-dollar tuition. All done, right? Think you can rest easy? Well, in the words of former Harvard President Johnny Moneybags*, “You’re just getting started, buddy!”

On top of the already anticipated tuition, there are countless, “hidden” costs of a college education. These are the things you’re going to need—or just really, really want—in addition to the old standards. The Atlantic Monthly estimates that students should budget for, at the very least, $236 a month. That adds up to about $7,500 a year. A lot of this depends on your lifestyle—if you’re living in a city, you can be sure the little expenditures will pile up by the month. In addition, the difference between having a meal plan and not having one, or living on campus versus off campus, can be a big one for your wallet. While you may think that the little things won’t catch up with you, we recommend that you strongly consider penciling the following items into your budget for the year:

Textbooks and School Supplies

Chances are, you’ve anticipated the exorbitant price of college textbooks and planned accordingly, but in the case that you haven’t, let me assure you: textbooks are CRAZY expensive. Without a doubt, the first time you set foot in the college bookstore you’ll find yourself cursing into your sleeve for having to pay $325 for a book about the Whiskey Rebellion, and an extra $125 for the Whiskey Rebellion Workbook. So why not think ahead and buy your books and pens/pencils/notebooks online to save some money? Or, better yet, if you know what classes you’re going to take early on, go to the college library and check them out for FREE. Your parents will thank you later. 

College Book Store: $350-$450 per semester (depending on major)
Online Used Book Store: $150-$200 per semester (depending on major)
College Library: Free, baby, free!

Dorm Stuff

Before you get to school, you and your future roommate will surely have the classic “hey, I’ll bring the microwave, you bring the mini-fridge!” awkward phone conversation. But there’s lots of other stuff you’ll find yourself wanting if you’re going to have the swinging-est dorm room on your hall. Watch out for the high prices of couches, futons, posters, iPod docks, mini-vacuums (you’ll need one, trust me), television sets and DVD players. And if you live in a big city, you might be tempted by all sorts of dorm trinkets. Like juicers. Those things are amazing.

Dorm Stuff (before your freshman year): $300


This one especially applies to those of you going to school far from home. I know from experience how easy it is to forget that the price of a plane ticket across the country ranges from exorbitant to really exorbitant, and if you’re like me you foolishly wait until the last minute to make any reservations. Be sure to budget for travel expenses—this includes taking the train to visit friends nearby, or taking your car to see your girlfriend for the weekend. Even these side trips start to add up, especially since the price of gas can be, in the words of Harvard president Johnny Moneybags,** “as expensive as my golden armchair.”

Air Transportation: $500 – $1000 per semester

Late Night Snacks/Off-Campus Dining

Even if you plan on sticking to the meal plan, there’s no doubt you’ll occasionally want a burger and fries at one o’clock in the morning after a long night of studying for finals. Or, if you’re a vegetarian, you’ll want a turkey burger and turkey fries. You deserve a little indulgence now and then, but remember that these snacks add up. Also, watch out for too many cups of coffee. A lot of students in big city schools find themselves forking over a couple hundred bucks a month for caramel macchiatos. Brew your own coffee, friends. Brew your own!

Snacks: $15-$30 per week (probably more if you’re in a city)

Student Organization Fees

Did you know that some student clubs and organizations actually charge you to be a member? It’s true. Frats and sororities especially often carry with them some pretty hefty joining fees. And if you find yourself running a student club you’re passionate about, you might end up using quite a bit of your own money to fund the club’s activities. Some friends of mine in college who were theater majors spent upwards of $200 out-of-pocket on a production’s props and set pieces. 


After all that tuition, you’d think colleges would be willing to spot you a few hundred bucks for copies and prints. But you’d be surprised how many schools don’t factor in these costs at all. Especially during finals time, or if you have a particularly important presentation that needs to be professionally bound and put together, the big print jobs and multiple copies could set you back a good chunk of dough.  

Printing/Copy Fees: Up to $100 a semester

* This quote and name are entirely fabricated. 
** Indeed, Johnny Moneybags does not exist.

Save time. Let us search for you.

Narrow down over 1,000,000 scholarships with personalized results.

Get matched to scholarships that are perfect for you!