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The Hidden Costs of College

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

"If a college student eats one pizza a week (off-campus), he'll have spent $2,000 on pizza by

 the time he graduates from a four-year program," says Mark Kantrowitz, of, a resource for student financial aid.

Parents, did you factor that two grand in when you were calculating your student’s college costs? Probably not and you are not alone. Most families plan their budget based on the figures provided on college websites. My research shows that these figures are rather low estimates - the “real” cost of earning a degree including essentials such as textbooks, transportation, Greek life, dining out and computer maintenance is higher.

Students report that they are spending between $400 and $500 for textbooks and supplies each semester.  That is an additional $4,000 in college costs over 4 years. Text books costs vary by major, for example, 1 new accounting textbook can cost $150 to $200. Here are some tips for reducing textbook costs:

  • Start with your college library, with the frequent use of digital supplemental materials  many books are used infrequently during the semester

  • Share books with other students. You can split the cost of a book and and share it according to an agreed upon schedule.

  • Trade books you no longer need for ones you do need. This can be done on campus with friends and classmates or online at places such as and

  • Buy from online vendors. There are several sites available that usually offer discounted prices on new and used books:,,,,

Another big college expense is public transportation. This cost varies by location of course, but for example, at the University of North Carolina Wilmington student transportation costs average $1,452 per year, whether a student lives on campus or commutes.

Your student’s dorm and dining hall provides the basics, but students will need everything from laundry money to snacks and cell service. And some majors like music have extra costs. One drum major spent $500 extra on his equipment and sheet music each semester. And music majors aren't the only ones: Art and graphic design majors, for example, must purchase costly software as well as materials. Some large universities, like Florida, add additional fees once a major is declared.

After budgeting for the dorm or apartment, a meal plan, tuition, activity and insurance fees, experts say you should plan for an additional $300 to $400 out of pocket each month to cover day-to-day extras. Here is few of the budget busting culprits:

  • Parking: Most universities charge to park on campus, even for dorm-based students. Expect to pay upward of $500 for two semesters of parking privileges at most major universities.

  • Sororities and fraternities: If your student pledges, then he or she (or you) will be on the hook for upward of $2,000 in fees and other Greek-associated expenses over the course of a college career.

  • Hidden apartment costs: Opting out of the dorm can be expensive in ways you might not realize. Most campus-style apartment complexes require 12-month leases, so you or your child will be paying for the summer months, even if he or she isn't enrolled in school

  • Computer malfunctions:  If available, buying a computer through the college can be a potential route to take. While it can cost a bit more, the college often offers free or reduced tech support, which can help cut college costs and reduce long-distance parental anxiety. Laptop rental may also be an option, so check in with the university to find out if this is an option.

Parents- here is the best financial advice you will read…. DO NOT put a semester's spending money your student’s debit card and trust it will last. Release those funds veeeerrrry gradually. I know from experience, it will keep those phone calls home coming!

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