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Understanding the Hidden Costs of College

College Planning

When mindfully planning for higher education expenses for your children, taking a look at the college’s published cost of attendance is a good idea. These are estimated costs that can change depending on the student’s chosen major, classroom curriculum, campus activity, and personal lifestyle.

Current college trends put hidden costs beyond tuition in the ballpark of $3,000 to $5,000 a year per student. Unplanned or unexpected costs directly related to education include:

  • Admission tests and applications
  • Classroom materials and textbooks
  • Dropping classes or registering late
  • Extra classes or specific major study sessions
  • Lab and tutoring sessions
  • Per-use charges for campus amenities
  • Post-undergraduate or licensing exams
  • Sorority, fraternity, and club membership fees

In some cases, undergraduates apply for grant aid to cover the non-tuition expenses. Unfortunately, grants might only cover a small portion, leaving the student responsible for the reminder. Individual lifestyle expenses each month can cost $50 to $200, or in some cases much more. The majority of these non-tuition personal living expenses associated with attending college could be overwhelming to a budget that is not mindfully planning for them. In order to make ends meet, some students may find it necessary to get a part-time job.

Student Daily Living

  • Cable/satellite TV/cell phone
  • Replacing damaged or lost property
  • Healthcare  
  • Housing and dorm furnishings
  • Laundry 
  • Meals outside of the meal plan
  • Parking and transportation
  • Renter’s insurance 

As students leave campus to join family and friends during semester and holiday breaks, these are opportunities for parents and students to mindfully review and adjust their budget for living expenses. I strongly recommend that both you and your student be involved in the planning process. These conversations are valuable lessons and offer your student an opportunity to mindfully manage their own spending budget as you help prepare them for their own abundant future.


Whether your student attends a large university or small college, they will still face the challenge of planning for non-tuition expenses. The choice of attending a large university offering a wider range of degrees, more clubs, greater resources, and access to alumni, compared to a small college with more personalized attention for each student, can ultimately come down to these extra costs. Be sure to think through them carefully before making such an important life decision.

Talking to a financial planner can be a great way to mindfully prepare and move forward with confidence when making your family's higher education decisions. 

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