Hidden Costs of Attending College

Most parents and students alike have a good understanding of what a college education costs but even the most aware individual is usually surprised when learning about hidden costs of attending college.  In truth, it is common for many college expenses to be overlooked or not even known about, which is why we felt it important to provide information.  College in general, whether attending a two or four-year educational institution is expensive but being hit with a huge bill that includes surprise costs is certainly not what any parent or student wants.

It is important to know that hidden costs associated with college are found at brick and mortar, as well as online colleges and universities.  Now, while an online education is typically the less expensive route, even with this hidden costs are found.  The goal is to identify the trust cost of a college education prior to choosing the school.  As you will see from the information provided, the cost of earning a degree goes well beyond tuition and books.


As mentioned, the cost of college goes beyond tuition but it is still crucial to understand that this expense varies dramatically from one school and geographical location to another.  By understanding the way the school charges tuition, it would be possible to save money.  For instance, if it costs $500 per credit hour and you took 10, the amount of tuition would be $4,500.

However, if an educational institution limited the amount of tuition charged, which many do, then you may find 12 credit hours costing the same.  In other words, for a college or university with a capped tuition rate, the cost for taking 12 credit hours may be exactly the same as 10 credit hours so it would certainly be worth investigating.

Miscellaneous fees

You want to pay close attention to each fee charged.  While $10 here and $30 there may not seem much, by these miscellaneous fees quickly add up.  The goal is to understand every item you would be charged, whether for computer time, lab time, using the fitness center, food while staying on campus, and other student services.  In addition, make sure you know the true cost of each class being taken.  Although it would seem the tuition would cover everything, most often additional fees apply.  Again, computer or lab time may not be included in the tuition or special materials needed to complete a course.


The price of textbooks for a single semester of college could run anywhere from $150 to $400 depending on the courses being taken, the credit hours, and the number of books required per course.  The challenge is that most often, content in college books changes just enough making the prior year’s books obsolete.  Because of that, students are forced to purchase brand new books.  However, a little research on your part could save significant money.  Rather than depend on information provided by the school’s bookstore, ask the teacher who may advise that you could get by with the earlier version.

Campus Dorms or Private Apartments

When going to college away from home, you would have two options for housing – staying in a college dorm or renting an apartment alone or with other students.  Usually, it is more cost efficient to stay on campus since the cost includes room and board.  In other words, with a private apartment, you would be responsible for rent, utilities, groceries, and so on but if staying on campus, all of these expenses would be wrapped up into a single fee.

Of course, if you were to attend college near home, then staying with parents or other relatives would be an ideal way to save money.  However, if you want to live on campus, you might check with the college or university to see if they offer a discount or even free dorms for maintaining a high GPA.  Many colleges and universities have one or more dorms on campus dedicated to high achieving students so if you meet this criteria, it would be worth asking about.


As mentioned, when staying on campus the cost typically includes both room and board, which means in addition to the room or dorm, you would also be fed three meals a day.  In this case, you need to make sure you know the exact number of meals, as well as snacks that would be provided.  Additionally, ask about the specifics of each meal.  For instance, the cafeteria would likely remain open for a set number of hours or certain times so not being there to eat would mean paying for a meal outside the plan.  Missing one or two meals would be no big deal but missing numerous meals would quickly increase the cost of college.

Other Potential Hidden Costs

Some of the other expenses that are common for college students include transportation, computers, school supplies, insurance, clothing, entertainment, and more.  Using supplies as an example, if you were to buy standard items needed such as pencils, pens, paper, etc. at the campus bookstore the cost would be much higher than if you purchased items at the local Wal-Mart.  Another example has to do with parking.  If you were to take your car, you would either need to hunt for street parking each day or purchase an actual parking space, which can be high.

The bottom line is that tuition and books alone do not account for all the expenses you would pay when attending college.  You want to consider everything, even hidden costs.  With this, budgeting would be easier and overall, college more affordable.  In most cases, there are alternatives to these hidden fees, thereby reducing the cost of earning a college degree.

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