College Expenses: Budgeting for the Add-Ons

Suzanne Shaffer
October 23, 2013



Parents: Get ready to open your wallets!

It might be surprising to you that most parents don’t think about the add-ons beyond tuition, room and board. Those are the big college expenses, but not the only ones. You might know about textbooks, a computer and some dorm accessories. But did you know there are other expenses you need to budget for when you’re thinking about college costs?

Here are a few of the add-ons that can tack on thousands to the actual published cost of college.

Activity Fees

Every college has its own activity fees that will be added on to your college bill every semester. Colleges charge these fees to offset expenses, much like the utility companies tack on monthly fees and taxes. They usually start at $100 and, depending on the college, could be even more.

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Gym Fees

Colleges often charge for the use of the gym and its facilities. While some colleges include this fee in the room and board costs, others charge separate fees — up to $80 per semester. Check with the college before applying if this is something your student will be using.

Parking on Campus

This isn’t a problem if your student is entering as a freshman because most colleges discourage freshmen from having vehicles. However, if your student is a commuter student, there will be a parking sticker fee to register her vehicle. Another unexpected cost can be parking tickets (some students have a tendency to park where they aren’t allowed).

College Campus Cards

These cards are used on campus as debit cards. Students will use them to purchase items in the bookstore, snacks, copies and for laundry. You will need to add money to this card as your student needs it. Most families start with several hundred dollars.

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Dorm Damage Deposit

This fee appears on your bill if your student lives on campus. Why do they charge this fee? College students are notorious for abusing their living quarters. Even if your student is neat, her roommate might not be. Don’t expect to get this money back — colleges rarely refund them.

Technology Fees

College charge these fees for computer labs, wifi access, ethernet connections and any other technology related service. These are usually separate from the activity fees and will appear on your bill under its own category.

Lab Fees

Colleges charge fees for the use of labs and lab equipment. These type of labs can be anything from an actual trading room to an engineering, chemistry or biology lab. If your student uses them, you will be charged. You will also be charged for the cost of purchasing lab equipment if necessary.

Health Insurance

Colleges expect their students to be covered by health insurance. You can keep them on your family medical policy until they are 26, but you must notify the college. If they don’t receive proof of insurance, they will automatically add it to your bill.

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Computer Insurance

It’s up to you whether you purchase insurance to cover your student’s computer. This type of insurance covers loss, damage and theft. Even in your student isn’t prone to losing things, college students tend to “borrow” other students property. Weigh the costs if you have to replace it.

Dorm Contents Insurance

This cost is minimal but might be something to look into for your student. College students tend to leave doors unlocked, and even though most campuses will tell you their security will take care of this, you should consider it if you’re concerned.

Greek Life

This expense is voluntary. You can avoid this cost if your student isn’t interested in a sorority or a fraternity in college. However, if they are choosing to pursue Greek life, get ready to shell out dues, money for T-shirts and pins, formal attire, and gifts for sisters or brothers. These expenses can add up and go into the thousands over the four years of college.

Spending Money

More than two-thirds of students receive funds from home each month. Your student’s spending habits will determine this cost. It’s a good idea to agree on an amount before they leave for college and tell them you expect them to stick to a budget.

Travel Expenses

Travel expenses can be quite hefty, especially if your student is attending college away from home. These expenses could include gas, airfare and other transportation costs. Don’t forget to add hotel costs for Parents’ Weekend and your own travel expenses if you go for a visit.

It’s easy to see how these costs can easily add up to thousands of dollars. When determining college expenses, don’t forget to add these to the total cost of college. If you are aware of the expenses in advance and budget for them, you won’t be shocked when the bill arrives.

Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her blog offers timely college tips for parents and provides parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze. You can also find her on Twitter (@suzanneshaffer) and Facebook (parentcollegecoach).

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