In an earlier post, I wrote about common college budgeting mistakes, like overfocusing on significant expenses and ignoring smaller ones. That started me thinking about the more minor costs students and families forget about when planning college.
I should highlight some of those frequently forgotten college budget expenses. Individually, these expenses seem minor compared to the cost of tuition. Collectively, they can add hundreds, even thousands, to the cost of your degree.
Many of these are unavoidable expenses, and there’s not much you can do to reduce the cost. The best option, then, is to plan and factor them into your college budget. If you’re starting to budget for college, be sure to get my free college budget checklist. You can sign up by filling out the form near the middle of the post.
Okay, onto the list! Here are five of the most commonly forgotten college budget expenses.
When planning for college, most students and families focus on significant expenses like tuition and housing. They often forget to factor in the cost of applying to college in the first place. If you plan to apply to multiple schools, college application fees could cost you hundreds of dollars.
I researched and found that the average college application fee is around $40. The most common application fee is $50. More prestigious schools have application fees that can approach $100.
I also found that students are typically advised to apply to between six and ten colleges. If students follow these guidelines and apply to eight colleges, they’re likely forking over $320 or more in application fees. Apply to more colleges, and that number could easily reach $500.
When planning for college, don’t forget to consider all the pre-college expenses. That includes test prep and standardized testing fees, as well as college application fees. You can find those and other pre-college costs in my free college budget checklist. Just fill in the form below to get your copy.
After paying four to six years of tuition, many students are unpleasantly surprised to learn they have to pay to graduate. It doesn’t seem fair, but graduation fees will probably cost you several hundred dollars.
First, most schools charge a general graduation fee, perhaps called a commencement fee. These fees pay for things like commencement speakers and printing graduation programs. You’ll pay this fee even if you don’t participate in your graduation ceremony.
Second, you’ll pay to rent your cap and gown. Rental costs vary based on which company your school contracts to provide hats and dresses. At my university, the complete gear (gown, cap and tassel) will cost you about $75. You may avoid this expense if you don’t walk at graduation, but I encourage all students to attend their graduation ceremony.
Finally, you have to apply to graduate, which usually involves a small fee. This fee is typically used to cover the cost of printing and mailing your diploma. The deadline to apply for graduation will be listed on your school’s academic calendar. Be sure to use it by the deadline, or you’ll be charged a late fee on top of the actual fee.
These fees are charged for classes in which supplies are used. For example, consumables fees pay for paint in an art class or chemicals in a science class. This type of fee goes by different names, including the generic “lab fee.”
Not all students pay these fees, so they’re not included with the mandatory fees that are often listed alongside tuition. Instead, they’re only charged to students in certain classes. So, only students in Intro to Biology pay the lab fee for that class.
Even classes without a consumables fee may still have field trip fees or require the purchase of special equipment, like a particular type of calculator.
You could avoid these fees by not taking classes that charge them. Realistically, though, you’re not going to graduate college without taking a science or computer-based class, so at some point, you’ll pay lab or equipment fees.
The good thing is that schools must tell you about these fees upfront. The course catalog will usually list extra costs along with the course description. So at least you’ll know about these fees before you enroll in a class.
You can avoid this one fee on the list by not taking a car to campus. However, that’s not ideal or even possible for many students, so you need to investigate the cost of parking permits when researching colleges.
Parking permit fees vary so much I can’t even provide you with an average cost. These fees can be based on whether you live on or off-campus, whether you want to park in a lot or a garage, and whether you want an assigned space. Here are some examples I found.
At the University of Florida, the current cost of a student parking permit is $160 a year. This seems to be true for all licenses, whether or not students live on campus. At U.F., parking lots are assigned based on credit hours completed. That means freshmen and juniors park in different places. I have no idea why.
At the University of Oklahoma, the current cost of a student parking permit is $274 a year. This is true for campus and commuter students, though each has designated lots where they can and cannot park.
At the University of Oregon, the cost of parking permits varies for on-campus and commuter students. Commuter students pay $34 a month for parking at U.O. Students living on campus pay $94 for parking (yikes!). In both cases, students must pay the total cost upfront. So, for an annual permit, commuter students must fork over around $400, and on-campus students must pay over $1,000.
The moral here: if you attend the University of Oregon, seriously consider ditching your car and taking the bus. (That’s what I did when I was a student there.)
I mention this a lot, but I’m still surprised at the number of students, especially freshmen, who think the student health center is free.
Students are shocked; I tell you when they have to pay to see a doctor or get a prescription at the student health center. A lot of them have no idea how their health insurance works. They don’t understand copays and deductibles.
Given the high likelihood of getting sick, particularly among students living in the dorms, you need to include some money in your college budget for medical expenses. And be sure to understand how your health insurance works. I can’t stress that enough; in fact, it’s one of my top financial tips for college students.
These five commonly overlooked college budget expenses are just the tip of the iceberg. It would help if you also kept things like housing deposits and new student orientation fees. Yep, that’s right: you pay for orientation and graduation.
These seemingly minor and often one-time fees drive up the cost of college. They also make budgeting for college difficult, which is why you should investigate them ahead of time. Having a solid college budget will help you avoid the sticker shock many students and families face each year. And good news: budgeting is free.
Until next time, best wishes and keep learning,
P.S. If you liked this post, you might also like my post on common college budgeting mistakes.