11 hidden college expenses

A student sits on a bench with a laptop and a cup of coffee.

Beyond tuition, learn what costs to expect as you start preparing for your first semester on campus.

Some of the costs of college are pretty obvious, like tuition, room, and board. But others are not as apparent when you’re choosing a school. For example, did you budget for traveling home for Thanksgiving or other breaks?

Whether you’re working to pay your own way through school or getting help from your family, tuition is not the only expense to keep in mind. If you don’t have supporting tools like a bank account or budget in place, now may be the time to set these up. Doing so can help you plan and pay for the following expenditures:

  1. Books and supplies: In college, students are generally responsible for buying their own textbooks — and they can be quite pricey. According to the College Board, in 2019-2020, college students at four-year schools spend $1,240 on books and supplies for the year. You may be able to reduce this cost significantly if you’re organized and rent or buy your books used or online. The one option you can’t choose is going without books, so you should make sure to plan for this expense.
  2. Printing: Many professors are aware of the high cost of academic materials and do students the courtesy of posting PDFs of course readings online. Even so, the cost of printing a dozen PDFs per week can be staggering. It may be easier on your budget to use an e-reader or tablet for reading PDFs instead.
  3. Travel: Unless you are going to college in your hometown, you’re likely to have some expenses associated with getting to and from school during winter and spring breaks, or when you want a dose of family time. Whether you’re driving, flying, or taking the train or bus, be sure to budget for these costs well ahead of time, and avoid booking travel plans last minute to get the best prices.
  4. Coffee: There are few things college students love more than coffee. You can purchase fancy coffee around every corner on most campuses, but don’t be fooled by this convenience. Coffee from a coffee shop is many times more expensive than making coffee at home or getting it as part of your meal plan. Treat yourself to a cup of coffee now and then, but buying a coffee maker and a good travel mug will help you save cash in the long run.
  5. Food: Even if you have a meal plan, it is important to budget extra money for food. When you’re busy and not able to get to the dining hall or for times that the dining hall is closed, you might need to buy a quick sandwich or snack. These expenditures can add up quickly.
  6. Socializing: Social expenses can drain your wallet. Many campus clubs and activities charge a cover fee at the door, so account for these expenditures in your monthly budget.
  7. Laundry: Students are generally expected to pay for their own laundry. Be sure to stock up on a few rolls of quarters — or make sure you have enough of a balance on your student card — before the semester starts, so you can still have clean clothes when your schedule gets hectic. Don’t forget the detergent and fabric softener, too.
  8. Tickets to games: Cheering on your school sports teams is memorable and fun — and maybe even a big reason you picked your school. Students usually get discounted tickets, but you’ll still need to allot some money for this expense. If you go to a school with a top program, season tickets to the most popular sports can cost a few hundred dollars.
  9. Transportation: College in the big city? Having money to take the bus or train can make your social life and entertainment calendar a lot more fun — not to mention adding cool internship opportunities. Some colleges offer free or discounted transit passes to their students, but if yours does not, set aside some cash in your budget to cover getting around town (and inquire about student discounts or multi-use discount passes). If your college is in a more rural or suburban area, you may need a car to get around. For a car, you will need to factor in campus parking fees, gas, insurance, and other costs. If you don’t have a car, make sure to factor in rideshare costs, if you plan on using that service.
  10. Graduation fees: While you don’t need to worry about this until the end of your time in college, many schools expect students to pay graduation fees toward the end of their senior year. The money covers things like diplomas, diploma covers, your cap and gown rental, ceremony set-up, and other costs tied to graduation. The fee can run from $50 to a couple hundred, so it’s important to budget for it. If you want to know the costs in advance of graduation, contact the office of the bursar.
  11. Surprises: You never know what kind of unique opportunities may appear on the horizon when you’re in college. Whether the opportunity is a job interview in another state or a fun concert with your friends, it never hurts to have a little extra cash stashed away. This can also serve as an emergency fund — something you’ll want to consider building to cover unexpected expenses.

College may certainly be one of the most exciting times of your life, so make sure you keep some of these expenses in mind and build out your own college budgeting plan. If you’re looking for more help in the realm of budgeting, Wells Fargo is here to help you manage your money like a boss with easy, convenient checking accounts, debit cards, and savings accounts.

Find out how the Get College ReadySM Planning Guide can help you navigate the college planning process.

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