Hidden Costs of College

When you think about the cost to attend college, your mind probably jumps to the basics: tuition, housing, and fees. However, there are plenty of unexpected costs many students forget about.

Understanding the full cost of attending college can help alleviate some of the stress and help you feel more prepared. Add in these costs to your yearly budget so there are no surprises when you check your bank account.

Costly Days

There are a few days in each semester that tend to dry out your wallet.

Move-in day: Plan out how you are going to get to campus with all of your things, and if you live far away, do not forget shipping costs. There are a few one-time costs like furniture, bedding, and any deposits.

Game Day

If your school’s sports teams are a big part of the student experience, game days can become costly. If the game is away, transportation can be costly by car, student bus, or public transportation. You will also need to factor in food, the game ticket, and apparel to show off your school spirit.


Many students hope to spend important holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, the high holidays like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana with family. Plan the trip in advance because flights, bus, and train tickets are expensive, and students can’t rent a reasonable car until they are 25.

Greek Events

Formals, Informals, and philanthropy events are usually an added cost to attend. There is optional formal attire, or informal matching shirts, and entry fees.

Move out day

This is similar to move-in day, only if you live far away, where will you keep your things throughout the summer? Look into storage lockers and don’t forget about budgeting to get home whether that be by car, train, plane or bus.

Dorm Room Essentials

Fortunately, residence decorations are a yearly or one-time expense. Whether you live in a furnished or unfurnished residence, you will have to buy some extras like bedding, pillows, and decorations furniture for your room as well as any common areas. Target offers affordable high-quality accessories including blankets, pillows, and decorations. If the furniture isn’t your future, the best option is to check your school’s Facebook page or an online bulletin where other students post used items for sale.


If you are living in an off-campus residence, you will also find yourself breaking in your kitchen. For many college students, this is your first time cooking meals and navigating the grocery store. Allow yourself a weekly grocery budget between $30-$50.

The cheapest grains and starches include ingredients like rice, pasta, potatoes, bread. Stay away from the organic aisle of vegetables and almost everything is relatively inexpensive. In terms of your fruits, bananas are the cheapest and for your meat, check what is on sale! If you are required to purchase some type of meal plan, follow these cheap eats using the dining hall food.

Academic Tools

A computer is required to do basic college tasks like tackling a paper, conducting research, or using your student portal. If a laptop is out of reach, the school library will be a handy tool. Another option is to purchase a tablet and buy an added keyboard. This expense can range anywhere from $500-$2,000 depending on your budget.

Textbooks are also required by most classes and can cost hundreds of dollars per semester. A few tricks: ask your professor if they have an extra copy, visit your school’s library, share a textbook with a peer who is in the class on opposite days, check if there is a used book or online version, and always wait until after the professor reviews the syllabus because some textbooks are not required.


Every student needs some time to unwind and relax, but taking part in activities will cost you as well.

You might want to go out with friends, enjoy meals at restaurants, or get drinks at local bars, which will all come at a cost. Other expenses include a concert or a monthly Netflix and Spotify bill.

Make sure you make a monthly budget for the maximum amount you can afford for entertainment activities.


Getting around is another factor of college that many students don’t think about before they arrive. Some schools offer discounts on public transportation, or if you live on campus, you might not need a car to get to class if the buildings are within walking distance.

Don’t forget that when you want to see a movie, pick up takeout, or hit the grocery store, you will need a way to get there. If you bring a car to school, you’ll have to pay the standard costs associated with owning a car, such as gas, insurance, and upkeep. You’ll also be responsible for a parking pass if you’re parking on campus, which can cost several hundred dollars per semester or year.

Campus Organizations

There are many types of campus organizations, most of which all include membership fees.

If you join a sorority or fraternity during your college experience, you will have to pay new member dues in the first semester. The average cost for new member dues is between $335 and $647, although if you pledge a sorority or fraternity that has its own housing, the dues and rent could be a few thousand per semester. Depending on where you go to school, the cost to live in a chapter house could be lower than what you’d pay in a dorm or off-campus apartment, especially since the total often includes meals.

If you participate in extracurricular sporting activities, a Division III athlete, or a club sport, you are responsible for covering equipment and matching attire. This expense can range up to a few hundred dollars per semester.

College is expensive, but totally doable as long as you are realistic with the costs associated with attending. Do the research, make a budget, and you will come out with a bank account still in the green.