Filling out the application, writing your essay, applying for scholarships, attending campus visits, there is so much to do to prepare for college. Once you’ve received your acceptance letter, it may seem downhill from there. Now that you know where you’re going to attend, you have to figure out how you’re going to pay for it. Yes, scholarships are available and many parents have set up accounts to help pay for this looming expense, but there is more to college than just tuition and a dormitory room. Those costs alone seem staggering.
The College Board tells us that the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2014–2015 school year was $31,231 at private colleges, $9,139 for state residents at public colleges, and $22,958 for out-of-state residents attending public universities.
The average cost of room and board ranges from $9,804 at public schools to $11,188 at private schools.
All that money gets you through just one year.
But college expenses go far beyond tuition and a place to sleep. You and your parents need to prepare for the hidden trapdoors of heading off to college.
These extra expenses can be killer, especially if your parents aren’t wealthy.
Let’s take a look at a few of them:
Computers and printers.
You may have survived high school by using your home computer and printer, but if you’re heading out of town to college that’s about to change. A laptop and a printer are necessities in today’s higher-education world. If you have family and friends who can extend big bucks for a high school graduation gift, this should be number one. If a new computer or printer is too costly for one person, then put all your graduation gift money toward a laptop and printer. Sure, you can use a computer in the college library or possibly in computer labs scattered around the campus, but they aren’t always available or convenient.
Costs vary greatly, of course. A budget laptop can be had for $400 or $500; maybe less in some cases. High-powered models can easily top $1,000. The additional problem with computers and printers is that they eventually need to be replaced. If you decide to go with a cheaper version, don’t be surprised if you don’t make it through four years (or more) of college without having to buy a second one.
Depending on your major, you need to keep software additions or upgrades in mind. Again, computer labs or rentals should offer the required software and programs needed to pass a class, but professional versions are expensive and may not be readily available. Making your way in the professional world requires proficiency, so having a personal copy may be beneficial.
This is one expense you and your parents may have thought about, at least briefly. But it can still be sobering to actually view the prices. In some cases, a single book can cost a few hundred dollars. The College Board estimates that the average student spends about $1,200 a year on books and supplies. (Your parents may have spent less than that on tuition back in their college days.)
Sororities, Campus Ministry and other social activities.
Granted, this isn’t a necessity, but let’s face it. You’re not going to study all the time. Part of the college experience is involvement in campus activities. Some of those are cheap or free, which is great. But some come with costs attached. USA Today reported last fall that fraternity and sorority members can pay from several hundred dollars to more than $1,000 a semester for the privilege of being part of their organizations. Campus Ministries offer a lot of fun and entertaining activities throughout the year for little to no cost, but what about that Fall Break Retreat, Winter Break Ski Trip or Spring Break Mission Trip? Sure, you have fundraising events to help, but you’re still responsible for the dough.
Other necessities and extras.
Transportation, clothing, entertainment and other miscellaneous expenses will add to the bottom line on that college bill. Some of those will be more relevant – and costly – than others, depending on your acquired lifestyle. There is room for being frugal here, so start analyzing what you spend your money on and why you dish it out. Consider keeping a ledger of everything you expend, you might find that you’ll pass up a purchase just because you don’t want to add it to your accounting book.
Keep in mind that none of this means every dollar needs to come out of mom and dad’s wallet. An intrepid college student should be able to find a job on or around the campus, whether working at the college bookstore, handling duties around the dormitory or bagging groceries at a nearby supermarket.
Unfortunately, those financial trapdoors can’t be avoided. But a little awareness and good planning should have you prepared for the moment when they’re flung open in front of you.