11 Unexpected College Costs You Should Know

College is already expensive, but just wait until you see some of these unexpected costs. Before you go finalizing your financial plans, factor these in first.

If you thought college applications, tuition, room, and board were all you had to shell out for the cost of going to college, think again. Once you get on campus, you’ll soon realize you need far more pocket change than you first planned for your new lifestyle. Here are a few other places where your savings from your summer job will most likely be spent.

1. Food

Unless you go to one of the schools that makes the Top 10 for Best Food list every year, the cafeteria food you get with your pricey meal plan may not be what you imagined. If you want to eat a little healthier, explore dining options off campus, or stock up on study snacks, I would recommend saving at least $50 a week for grocery shopping—maybe a bit more if you like to go out to eat with friends.

Related: The Best College Meals for Your Taste Buds and Budget

2. Temperature control

Your dorm room may be really, really hot the first day you move in. My roommate and I invested at least $100 in fans to keep us cool at night just so we would be able to sleep. And don’t get me started on winter temperature control. A lot of college dorms have been around for more than a few decades, so heating systems breaking down is less than uncommon. You might need to buy a space heater (if your school allows them)—double check your packing list. Additionally, you probably won’t have control over your dorm’s central AC/heating, so that’s something to factor in as well when buying these devices.

3. Charity events

As Millennial college students, we love philanthropy. Every weekend your school will have a handful of events you can participate in that donate to charity, from games of Capture the Flag that support tutoring programs to musicals that give part of ticket sales to women’s shelters. And if you think you can escape donating to charity during the next four years, think again. Your friends will inevitably join clubs that support super cool causes such as reproductive justice rights and environmental protection, and they will not hesitate to Facebook invite you to their weekly bake sales to raise money for their causes. So better factor in some dollars for being a humanitarian during your college years.

Related: Why You Should Volunteer in High School and College

4. Club fees

If you have an interest in playing club sports, joining Greek life, or acting in an improv group, guess what? These organizations all need money to keep them up and running, and that money comes from you. Depending on what activities you decide to join, you could be facing a few hundred dollars per semester of dues. Saving your money from your summer job definitely feels worth it once you get involved, but be sure to plan ahead for this one so you can participate in as many extracurriculars as you want.

5. Costumes

Parties in college often have fun themes, like the classic Mathletes vs. Athletes or Loggers vs. Joggers—not to mention college Halloween! However, you might not have nerd glasses or a fake ax in your closet, so make sure you save your pocket change to head over to GoodWill a few times a semester for some fun costume material.

6. Classroom supplements

Everyone knows you need to save up for textbooks, but sometimes professors also ask you to buy access to online programs that you’ll use to answer questions in class, such as Top Hat or Poll Everywhere. These types of programs can cost a few hundred dollars per semester, so be sure to budget them into your textbook fund.

7. Cold/warm weather gear

When I transferred to a college in Virginia, I discovered we lived right next to a beach that I had no idea even existed. Cue bathing suit shopping spree at Target. And when I went to college in Boston, I ruined a few pairs of shoes running to class in the snow and had to invest in more than one jacket to actually keep me warm (my hometown gear didn’t cut it). You never really know what the weather patterns in a new place are like until you live there, so you will definitely need some money for emergency shopping trips.

Related: 10 Things You Need for College in the Northeast

8. Travel

If you live far from school, you may want to go home more often than you think. Check out StudentUniverse for cheap flights for college students, but even the cheapest round-trip flight gets pricey when you go to college on the opposite coast. Save some money to go home and surprise your family on a long weekend when you need to get away for a while.

9. Concerts

In my opinion, the best time to go to concerts is in college. If you listen to your parents’ stories, most of their best concert experiences were in their 20s. Think about it: you have very little responsibility, popular music is geared toward your age group, and all your best friends live in the same place. Especially if your campus is located near a city, going to one concert per semester is a way to bring some zest to your regular schedule.

10. Fall/spring break vacations

Scenario: you walk in on your roommates planning a spring break trip to Miami. They invite you, you say yes, then you check your bank account and are about two flights, one hotel fee, and countless nights out short on the cash you’d need to fund this trip. College is all about spontaneity, so it might be worth getting an on-campus job to fund your more lavish spontaneous adventures.

Related: How to Save Money on Your Spring Break Vacation

11. Parking permits (and tickets)

If you have a car on campus, parking is out-of-this-world expensive, sometimes even up to $500 per semester depending on the school. And student parking services love to ticket and tow every student car in sight, especially around game days when more cars come to campus. It might be worth looking up the real cost of parking before deciding if having a car on campus is really worth the money.

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About Phoebe Bain

Phoebe is a student at the College of William & Mary. She's an avid writer, reader, runner, ukulele player, and user of the passive voice. Her favorite show is How I Met Your Mother, and she loves how giraffes look when they sleep.


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