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15 college costs you might not know about

Published March 20, 2024| minute read
Hadiya Iqbal

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    As you might have already discovered, getting a college education may be costly. Although most colleges do include their cost of attendance on their website to give students a better idea of how much their degree may cost them (and include items like tuition, fees, and projected living expenses), there may be some costs associated with attending college that are hidden and may end up as a surprise.

    In this article, we’ll outline the hidden costs you may not consider when preparing for college, but that you may need to budget for. Not all these unexpected college costs may apply to you, but it can be helpful to think about them in case you need to factor them into your budget.

    Unexpected college costs other than tuition to consider

    1. Textbooks

    Although you may think you’re prepared to buy textbooks for your classes, you may not be fully aware of all the books you must buy until your professors release their syllabuses — usually a few weeks before classes start.

    Textbooks can add up quickly, especially if your classes require multiple books. Talk to upper-level students at your school to try to get an estimate of how much they’re spending each semester on textbooks to start to estimate how much you might spend. From there, you can think of ways to save on college textbooks, such as purchasing used textbooks, checking your school library to see if any of the books are offered there, renting textbooks, or even sharing them with your classmates or friends.

    2. Social costs

    Of course, you’ll want to have fun with your friends in college, whether that means going to concerts or eating at restaurants. However, these costs can add up. As a college student, you’ll get student discounts and because of that you can potentially save money on concert tickets, air travel, museum and concert tickets, and more, but you do want to make sure to budget for entertainment costs properly.

    3. Bringing a car to campus

    Having a car in college can bring on additional costs. For example, your college may have parking costs, and other costs come with having a car, such as insurance and potentially car payments if you don’t own your car outright. In addition, if you’re commuting to and from school, you’ll need to pay for gas.

    4. Traveling home during school breaks

    If you're attending an out-of-state college or a college that isn’t near your home, you may need to travel home during your college career. It’s important to consider this when planning your college budget, be it planning for airfare, train fares, bus fares, or gas costs.

    5. Study abroad opportunities

    Study abroad opportunities in college may enhance your college experience. However, studying abroad is often not included in a college’s cost of attendance. If you want to study abroad, it may be helpful to plan financially for a study-abroad program. Beyond budgeting for this cost, you can consider applying for scholarships and grants to help pay for study abroad programs if you’re eligible.

    6. Technology costs including a computer

    You’ll most likely need a laptop or computer to complete your coursework in college and potentially other technology. Buying these items may come with hefty price tags, and preparing for some of these costs may be helpful. Along with budgeting for these items, you can take advantage of student discounts when purchasing a laptop or computer, utilize on-campus technology resources, or reach out to your school for financial assistance when it comes to purchasing necessary technology, as they may have programs to help.

    7. Greek life costs

    If you’re considering joining a fraternity or sorority, it's important to budget for the additional costs that come with joining one. Federal financial aid won’t cover Greek life costs for the most part, so you’ll need to account for this when you budget for school if you’re interested in joining one of these organizations. Of note, there are scholarships and grants available specifically for fraternities and sororities, however, accounting for this financial aid will be hard in advance.

    8. Organization and club fees

    Extracurriculars in college may enhance your resume and college experience, but they also may come with additional costs. Sometimes, if you join an organization or club in college, you’ll need to pay certain fees. If there’s an organization or several you’re interested in joining, it can be helpful to research the costs associated with them ahead of time so you can properly budget for these costs.

    9. Groceries and other food

    If you have a meal plan in college, this may be included in your room and board costs (and therefore, it’ll be relatively easy to figure out how to budget for most of your food). However, you’ll need to budget for food if you won’t have a meal plan in college. You also may need to budget for food if you plan to spend money outside of a meal plan, even if you’ll have one. This is a crucial item to budget for, as grocery costs can add up quickly.

    10. Dorm and apartment necessities

    Although most dorms and some college apartments may already come with basic furniture and appliances, such as a bed, desk, microwave, refrigerator, and sofa, in some cases, you may need to bring other essentials, such as bedding, toiletries, decorations, cleaning supplies, and any other items you’ll want in your living space that won’t be provided. This all needs to be budgeted for.

    11. Emergency expenses

    Unexpected things can happen at any time — including during college. Emergency expenses aren’t accounted for in a college’s cost of attendance, and it may be helpful to have an emergency fund for the “just in case” moments.

    12. Internships

    You may want to pursue college internships, which may be a terrific way to prepare for your career after college. That said, internships can come with costs. If the internship is for college credit, you may need to pay fees to your home college or university, for instance. You may need to pay living expenses to pursue some internships. If you want to pursue internships, it can be helpful to prepare for these costs in advance.

    13. Health insurance

    Some colleges and universities require students to have health insurance to enroll. This may or may not be reflected in their cost of attendance figures. Some students may be covered by their parent’s health insurance (although this doesn’t mean the health insurance will be free). In other cases, students will have to purchase health insurance from their school, the healthcare marketplace, or directly from an insurer. Make sure to research and then prepare for this cost, if necessary.

    14. General travel costs

    During your college career, you may take trips with friends or family that you may need to budget for. Whether it’s a road trip or spring break vacation, consider planning and weighing your options to ensure you’re making the most of your money.

    15. Miscellaneous fees

    You may come across random fees in college, such as orientation fees, course registration fees, or various miscellaneous fees charged by your college. Often, it can be challenging to prepare for these fees in advance, so it may be important to add a buffer to your college budget.

    Final thoughts

    Hidden costs associated with college can be financially challenging. Trying to account for as many as you can in advance can be helpful as you prepare to pay for college.