May 23rd, 2022

Consumer Intelligence

5 Hidden Costs of College

Kathryn Moody

By Kathryn Moody

Published August 13, 2014

5 Hidden Costs of College
When budgeting for your prospective college student's four years on campus, it's easy (and perhaps tempting) to think your costs are limited to the line-item expenses--tuition, fees, room and board, and books--so helpfully broken down by colleges for you. For example, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, our number-one choice for public-college value, out-of-state tuition is $28,205 per year, administrative/maintenance fees are $1,917, room and board is $10,008, and books are estimated to cost $1,328.

You've probably even weighed your student's daily living expenses--an average of $2,000 each year for laundry, cell-phone bills, and "anything else you normally spend money on," according to The College Board.

But for many students, the college experience will include a variety of costly budget-busters that families often overlook. Through interviews with college students and campus orientation counselors, we've uncovered several significant college cost "surprises"--from summer storage fees for your stuff to season tickets for the college football team--to help you and your college-bound child set and stick to a reasonable budget. Take a look.

Joining a Greek Organization

Many club memberships require fees or additional expenses, but Greek life tends to be the most expensive, says Melanie Payne, director of new-student orientation at Indiana University.

For example, at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, N.H., where 50% of all students are in the Greek system, new-member dues (money you pay the first semester you join the chapter) for sororities range from$335 to $647, depending on the chapter. At the University of Michigan, a larger public college, dues for the first semester of sorority membership range from $220 (an unhoused chapter) to $1,720 (a housed, on-campus sorority). For fraternities at small private school Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., new members pay an average of $2,000. These new-member fees do not include housing.

In subsequent semesters, active members will generally pay even more. At Payne's IU in 2012, the average paid for per-semester dues by fraternity members who didn't live in a chapter house was $711. Members who lived in chapter houses paid, on average, $5,187 per semester. (Think of living in the chapter house as room and board, including meals. At some schools such as the University of Missouri, where renewing sorority members pay from $2,378 to $4,360 per semester to live in a chapter house, that's cheaper than living in the dorms.)

Ask the campus's Greek-life coordinators to give you a specific rundown of fraternity and sorority fees to flesh out your budget. Chapters without houses may be significantly less expensive; dues are generally$200 to $300 per semester. And many Greek chapters have scholarship programs and payment plans for their members, so you may not have to pay the fees all at once.

Tickets to the Big Game(s)

At many schools, attending on-campus football or basketball games is an important part of the college experience--and maybe even a reason why your son or daughter chose to attend a particular college. Students generally get a large discount; still, season tickets for popular sports teams in football alone can range from $77 (Virginia Tech) to $245 (University of Notre Dame). Student season tickets to both basketball and football games at Indiana University are $300. If your child's school is a powerhouse at a popular sport, expect tickets to be more expensive for that set of games.

But students can be frugal and still see great action. Lots of school sports events, such as volleyball or baseball games, have either free or very cheap tickets for students because demand is lower.

Bringing a Car

A car is one of the 12 things Kiplinger says college students don't need, yet nearly half of all students have their own car on campus, according to a 2012 U.S. News survey.

Campus parking permits may come with a hefty price tag. E permits at Indiana University, a permit open to all students, cost $122 per year, or $61 for a semester only. Parking permits for Ohio State University range from $103.56 to $771 annually.

Students should be wary of parking in the wrong place: Frequent tickets can add to the cost of a car on campus. Colleges have been cracking down on parking violations, using high-tech means to identify (and boot) frequent violators and/or turn them over to collection agencies. Such violations can hurt your student's credit.

Naturally, if your child uses a car, he'll need to budget for gas, maintenance and insurance, too.

Traveling to and from Home

How many times each year will your child return home from college? At least two such round-trips, we're guessing. And how many times will you visit your child on campus? Perhaps once a year, on average.

If you and your student are traveling by air, all those flights will easily add up to thousands in travel costs. But even if Junior is road-tripping home, gas and tolls alone can cost hundreds each year. And don't forget hotel costs when you visit campus.

Moving or Storing Your Student's Stuff

At the end of each school year, your child will have three options: 1) remain near campus throughout the summer, 2) trek home with all his belongings in tow, or 3) return home after moving all the belongings into storage near campus.

If your student stays near campus, budget at least several hundred dollars per month to sublease a room or a full apartment. Visit to see current rental rates for units near campus.

Many companies near college towns are specifically geared toward student summer storage, and are often a bit cheaper than the usual moving service. Some companies provide free boxes, and others may sell you boxes and mattress bags. With , which serves more than 200 schools in the U.S. and Canada, storing three boxes, a refrigerator, and an unboxed microwave costs about $245 for the whole summer. You can add a supply kit--five boxes, a roll of tape, a marker, five zip ties and ten label pouches--shipped free to you for $35.

Hauling your stuff home each summer will likely be a bit more expensive. U-Haul's rates vary by pickup location and the length of your rental. For example, a 10-foot U-Haul truck used for an in-state move from Indiana University will cost about $150-200, fuel included. For a 600-mile move from Indiana to the East Coast, it could cost $700 or more.

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Kathryn Moody is a Contributing Writer at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine.