Top College Expenses

Top College Expenses

Mar 13, 2020Joey Cipriano

          For our parents and grandparents, a college education was an incredibly affordable option, with the cost of attending a four year university only being a few hundred dollars a year. Unfortunately for young people, the days of an affordable college education are long gone. The cost of a college education has been steadily rising for the last several years and is only expected to increase.

          As we’ve explored in previous blogs, college bound students can save a significant amount of money by choosing a community college for their general education requirements verses starting a four year university right out of high school. The savings can be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

          But the cost of tuition isn’t the only expense students and parents should worry about when thinking about college. Room and board, books, travel expenses, transportation, and food are just a few items that must be considered when factoring in the total cost of a college education. The cost of living expenses can be considerable when added to the already expensive costs of tuition, room and board, books, and all the other fees students are expected to pay while attending school.

          In this blog, we’ll talk about a few of the most common expenses to expect when going to college so you’re not a victim of sticker shock. Knowing what costs to expect can help you budget more carefully and get a better sense of how much money you’ll need from awards, scholarships, and college loans.


          Of course, no list about college expenses can begin without talking about the cost of tuition. The type of school you attend can significantly affect the amount you will pay in tuition.

          For example, the average cost to attend a four-year university in 2019 was about $10,000 for in-state students and $26,000 for out-of-state. However, the cost of attending a private four-year university was $26,000 for in-state students and $35,000 for out-of-state. These costs did not include the next contributing factor to college expenses.

Room and Board

          Paying tuition will only allow you to attend college, but doesn’t let you live there. Many colleges and universities require freshmen students to live on campus for their first year, which means having to pay the additional cost of room and board.

          The cost difference for public and private room and board isn’t as dramatic as tuition costs. For public universities, the cost of room and board is estimated to be $11,000 for both in and out of state students while private school students paid $12,000.

          But for those no longer living on campus and living in an apartment, the cost of rent can be significant the closer you live to campus. Because these apartments are more desirable to students, expect to pay a premium versus paying for an apartment that requires you to drive a little ways to get to school. 

Textbooks and Supplies

          The average college student will spend on average $1,200 a year for books and other study material at college or university. To decrease the cost, some students rent textbooks from bookstores or even use Amazon’s rental service for textbooks. 

          Another way to cut the cost is by either buying digital versions of the books you need or buying loose leaf versions, which can be much cheaper than their binded versions.

Annual School Fees

          Annual school fees are the costs of things you pay for often at the beginning of the school year and forget you paid for them. Things such as a parking pass or fees to use the gym are common annual fees.

          For sports fans, the cost of tickets to sporting events is a major cost one must consider if planning to go to many games. This is more common for larger schools with a national reputation for good sports programs in football or basketball. Ticket costs can be expensive, especially for a college student with little to no income. 


          If you’ve moved from a warm climate in the south to attend a school in the northern part of the country, chances are you will be ill prepared for the cold winter you’re about to experience. Furthermore, once you’ve secured an internship, you can’t simply wear anything in your closet unless it’s professional. For those reasons, you’ll need to budget money for new clothes to wear not only to help you stay comfortable in your new environment, but also for internships or for any jobs you land while you’re at school.

          Of course, finding clothes is much easier cheaper than buying textbooks. First, always look in your closet either at home or what you’ve brought with you for things that are appropriate to wear for work. There’s no sense in spending money when you already own clothes perfectly fine for spending a day in an office. 

          Second, try second hand stores to find gently used items you can buy for next to nothing. This is useful for items such as jackets or boots in case you’re not used to frigid winters, snow, and ice.

          Also, try asking new friends at school if they have clothes they no longer want or need and would be willing to give you. 


          Even if you’re great with electronics and you take good care of technology, chances are your laptop or computer won’t last you all through college. Buying a bargain basement computer might be good for the short term, but you may want to spend a bit more may get a more reliable computer that will last you for all of your college years.

          With phones becoming the tech of choice for many students, budgeting to buy a new phone or buying a phone that will last you as long as a new computer is probably a good idea. If possible, put insurance on the phone to protect yourself in the event of an accidental dropping or if it’s ever stolen.

          Buying a laptop or computer is a major investment in itself and it’s always best to talk to someone who knows a bit about technology so you’re not buying a machine that is underpowered or overpowered for your needs.

          But it’s not only mobile technology you should concern yourself with. A microwave in your dorm room may be your only way to cook a meal. While you likely don’t need a fancy microwave, it is an essential piece of technology you shouldn’t live without.


          If you intend to have a vehicle while at college, remember that having your own transportation can be a significant cost. Besides the cost of gas, there is also the cost of insurance, as well as yearly registration for your vehicle. 

          There’s also the normal maintenance cost for your vehicle such as oil changes, new tires or changing to snow tires if necessary, new windshield wipers, and putting money away for unforeseen emergencies such as part breaking that requires repair by a mechanic.


          For students who won’t have their own form of transportation, but will require a way to get to work, internships, or home for the holidays, travel costs are another factor in your college budget. 

          If mass transit is the best option, make sure to remember the cost of a bus pass so you won’t need to pay the fare every time you use the bus. While ride sharing programs are also an option, the cost can be significantly higher than using public transit, but it can be used if for instance you miss your bus or have to be somewhere faster than public transport can get you there.

          Beyond traveling while at school, there’s the added cost of getting home for the holidays. Airfare can be quite expensive during the holiday season and students might not have the income to purchase a ticket early. Alternatives could be to travel by bus or train as they can be cheaper ways to travel even if they aren’t as fast.

Food and the Basics

          A list such as this one could not be complete without talking about the most basic of needs while you’re in college. Budgeting for food and essentials is critical, even if you don’t plan to party, travel, or take part in extra-curriculars.

          Make sure to budget for foods you can actually afford such as bread and milk, and other items which don’t require a stove to cook if you only have a microwave. This means quite a bit of microwave meals or instant noodles. 

          You’ll also need toiletries and items for doing laundry, as well as money for using the washing machines if any are available. 

          While it’s easy to suggest having a budget for buying food and necessities, the harsh reality for many college students is it is simply not possible. Not being able to afford food or the basic necessities is a common problem being faced by many college students as the cost of tuition and other fees rise. 

          To combat this problem, many schools have established food pantries for struggling students. If you ever find yourself in this situation, check with your school to find out if they have a program available to help needy students. If it doesn’t, you can always check to see if the area you’re living in has its own food pantry you can visit.

End of the Year Storage

          It’s finally the end of the year and you’re ready to head home for summer break. Classes are over and people are leaving for home. Your problem? What to do with all of your things you have no way to get home.

          While it’s an easy problem to solve with the help of family and friends offering to pick up your things at the end of the year, many students might not have that option. Instead, they’ll have to opt for finding storage to hold onto their items until they come back to school. This also means students will also have to find a way to get their items to the storage garage in order to store it. 

          It’s important to remember to pay your storage fees while you’re gone or you can risk losing all of your items before you get back to school.

          With good planning and a good budget to keep you financially grounded, it is possible to survive the expensive years of college without having to struggle too much financially. Make sure to take advantage of opportunities where you can get a free meal or make a few extra dollars to put in your pocket so you don’t have to pinch pennies. If you find yourself with a bit of free time, consider checking around school to see if anyone needs odd jobs done where you can earn some extra cash and make sure to spread the word to other friends you’re always looking for work.

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