7 Hidden College Costs to Budget For



When you look at how much college costs, chances are good, that you’ll be focused on tuition. This is the amount that a school charges to attend classes. But it’s far from the only expense that you will incur.


There are many hidden college costs to budget for, which can add tens of thousands of dollars to your final bill. This includes the following seven expenses you can’t forget about


You’re going to need a place to live, which could be off-campus or on-campus. 


Regardless of which option you choose — unless you are living at home with relatives rent free — you should expect to spend thousands of dollars to cover the costs of living near your school while earning your degree. 


In fact, at a four-year public school, the average cost of living on campus is $11,303 while the average cost of living off-campus comes to $10,631, according to the Education Data Initiative


Textbooks are another one of the big hidden college costs. At a four-year public school, the average student will spend around $1,291 on books each year, according to the Education Data Initiative. 


While buying used textbooks can help cut these costs, spending a lot of money on books and supplies will still be essential. 


Colleges typically have washing machines you must pay to use. Or you will have to visit a laundromat if you have an off-campus apartment. It’s usually around $1.50 per load to wash clothing, plus the cost of drying and detergent. You will probably spend a few hundred dollars a year laundering your clothing while away at school, depending on how often you wash and how many loads you do per week.


If you drive to campus, you may have to buy a parking pass or pay to park. The costs can vary dramatically for parking your car depending on how much on-campus parking is available and depending on where your campus is located. 


Campuses in urban areas without much parking can pose the biggest difficulties because you may have to pay a high fee for street parking or for a garage nearby.



Transportation expenses are also one of the hidden college costs you must plan for. This doesn’t just include gas and related expenses for your daily trips to school. If you plan to travel home to see loved ones for the holidays or during semester breaks, you could spend hundreds more on airline tickets. 

Food and beverages

You’ll have to eat while attending school. 


You may be able to get an on-campus meal plan that allows you to pay a set price for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Or you may need to buy groceries and pay for off-campus food depending on your location and preferences. 


Regardless of your approach, you can expect to spend a few thousand dollars each year on food and beverages. 

Health insurance

Most colleges require that students who are attending have some type of health insurance coverage. 


You can generally stay on your parent’s health plan until you are 26 years old. But this won’t be an option for everyone. And in some cases, your parents may want you to help cover added premium costs even if you stay on their plan. 


If you can’t get insurance through a parent’s plan, you will need to explore other coverage options and could end up paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year in premiums. 

How to budget for hidden college costs 

Budgeting to cover these hidden college costs can be a challenge, especially as they come on top of tuition fees which also total tens of thousands of dollars per year. 


In many cases, you will need to take out student loans not just to pay your school for the privilege of attending classes but also to pay for these other expenditures. Schools will estimate the total cost of attendance, which includes some of these expenses, including room and board, and your financial aid package will be based on that amount. 


In some cases, you will get enough federal student aid combined with your savings to afford all the costs of earning your degree. In many other situations, however, you will need to explore private loan options to cover the difference in cost between what it actually costs to go to school and what federal student aid is available to you. 


If you take out private student loans, you have the option to refinance them to make payoff cheaper and easier. An ELFI financial expert can assist you with the process of refinancing loans so you can make paying for school as easy and inexpensive as it can be — even with the hidden costs of college to budget for.*

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