What are the major expenses for students in college?

With the overwhelming cost of higher education in the United States increasing each year, many students wonder, “Can I afford college and what major expenses should I look out for?”

Students who choose to attend college should expect to see the expenses listed below.

It’s no surprise that tuition is one of the biggest college expenses

Some schools offer a flat rate for tuition especially private schools. Private schools have the same cost for in-state and out-of-state students. According to the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing report from 2017 to 2018, the average out-of-state tuition and fees at public four-year school increased  by $800 (3.2%).

In private nonprofit four-year schools tuition for in and out-of-state students increased by $1,220 (3.6%). Private nonprofit college prices rise at a steadier pace than public college prices. Why are prices increasing? Prices continue to rise because state and local funding per student is growing slowly or declining. Therefore, institutions are forced to increment their tuition price.

Room and board can also be quite a costly college expense

Room and board are usually very expensive though the cost is at constant rate for students who live on-campus. Usually students are require to live on campus the first two years to become accustomed to the campus life. These students often have meal plans and the meal plans are charged quarterly or each semester.

On-Campus Options

Living on-campus comes with a constant rate depending on what meal plan you select.The benefit of living on-campus is that you shouldn’t expect unusual costs though you might want to have some funds set-aside for non-academic related expenses.

Though living off-campus can often be cheaper, it does come with unexpected expenses such as security deposits, flaky roommates and paying rent during the summer time. For off-campus living, you should have an allowance or some emergency funds set-aside for when unusual costs occur.

Off-Campus Options

If you want guidance for where to live off-campus go to Where Do I Look For Off-Campus Housing?. Keep in mind, that the cost of room and board may vary depending on which city your school is located. For instance, in New York City living on-campus and off-campus can be very expensive.

If you want to avoid the room and board expenses you should consider becoming a Resident Assistant (RA). According to My College Guide, RA are responsible of keeping things under control in your residence hall such as mediate disagreements and provide general for students.

Being a RA comes with the benefit of free room and board at the residence hall where they work. If you want to be an RA, you should contact your school’s housing office.

The cost of textbooks and supplies can add up quickly

According to the college board, the average annual cost of books for a college student ranges from $850 to $1,000. To save money, you should buy used textbooks or rent them. You can find cheap used textbooks online compared to the bookstore.

How to not spend a million dollar on textbooks , offers guidance on ways you can save money on textbook. Many schools require that students buy notebooks, lab attires, materials for projects, etc.

When you’re a student on a budget, who can not afford school supplies but is required to buy them regardless, your only option is to look for stores that offer the best deals when it comes to school supplies. You should go to 10 Places to Buy Cheap School Supplies.

Welcome to the 21st century! Electronics now make up a large category when it comes to college expenses.

Many college students spend hundreds of dollars on electronics each year. Whether it is on a new computer, smartphone, or speaker. However, these students most of the time don’t know that there’s many retail stores that provide discounts and deals for college students.

For instance, the tech company Apple provides Apple Education Pricing which consist of a computer or laptop that comes with a free headset from Beats.

Students often forget to set money aside for personal expenses and activity fees

Extracurricular activities and spending time with friends can impact your budget. When you go to the movies or join the volleyball club you have to pay some fees. That’s why it’s important to make a budget for additional spending.

Don’t forget to save money for transportation fees!

Going home for holidays or for random visits can be very expensive. When deciding what school to attend you should keep in mind the distance and cost of transportation.

For example, if you live in New York and plan to attend Rice University you should be aware that your transportation will be higher than someone who lives in Texas. Student Universe provides students with cheap flights, tours and hotels. Greyhound also offers college students discounts. Students just have to show their college ID when purchasing the ticket.

For students who live off-campus and commute each day, their schools have a shuttle bus that goes around town everyday for free. For those students that commute each day by using their own car, Unidays provides discounts for car services such as Uber, Zipcar, Lyft and so on. The Discover student credit card gives 2% cash back on gas and restaurants. This offer aids students in getting money back for commuting.

If you have children or dependents, don’t forget to factor that into your college expenses

For college students with kids, getting cheap child care might be close to impossible since many states have work hours, enrollment hours and academic progress requirements. However, child care is considered cost of attendance and therefore students are able to use their federal student aid towards this.

UC Berkeley offers financial support to students with dependent children. A handful of colleges offer free child care, to find out if your school has this program you should contact your school’s financial aid office.

Some useful resources for college students with kids are:

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): This program allocates funds to state to assist low-income families. States can use these funds to provide child care for college students with kids.
  • Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP): Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it provides nutrition education and meals to families based on their income.
  • Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program (CCAMPIS): This program provides grants to higher education institutions to offer campus-based child care services for low-income student parents. As of right now, 153 colleges and universities receive CCAMPIS funding.
  • Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood (MCCYN): Provides child care assistance to families of active duty service members and civilians/technicians in the U.S Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.


Baca, Suzanna de. “The 12 Hidden College Expenses.” Time, Time, 16 Nov. 2012, healthland.time.com/2012/11/16/the-13-hidden-college-expenses/. Mon. 18 June 2018

Dilworth, Kelly. “The College Expenses Financial Aid Officers Don’t Warn You About.” The Balance, The Balance, www.thebalance.com/college-expenses-you-need-to-budget-for-4151263. Mon. 18 June 2018

Greenthal, Sharon. “College Budgeting – Beyond Books and Tuition.” The Balance, The Balance, www.thebalance.com/college-budgeting-beyond-books-and-tuition-4046415. Mon. 18 June 2018