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July 30, 2020

Don’t Forget About These Unexpected College Costs

Don’t Forget About These Unexpected College Costs

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

For many, it’s the eve of going off to college (maybe for the first time! Good for you!). When you’re a brand new college student, you know generally what to expect — that you’ll live in a residence hall, have a roommate, go to classes and have a ton of fun.


College is one of those things that you purchase without knowing exactly what the exact experience will be like — kind of like going to high school all over again. You almost have to go through that first year before you can confidently say, “Okay, I’ve got this!” (Just like trying to navigate your way around your high school as a freshman. After a while, you got the hang of how it all worked.) 


But sometimes, you don’t know these things without a little experience under your belt. Things like unexpected college costs are exactly what I’m talking about. Here’s what you might not know about — and in some cases, you might be able to outfox those extra costs. Let’s dive in!

Activity Fee

Activity fees are typically administered by the college’s student association or student life department. The activity fee can cover the cost of athletic, social, musical, theatre and recreational activities and will vary depending on the college you attend.

Technology Fee

You may have to pay a technology fee so you can get access to technology resources like WiFi and the college or university you plan to attend can acquire, install and maintain up-to-date technology to enhance your student-learning outcomes. Ultimately, the goal is to help you be competitive in the technology-saturated workplace! This fee will vary depending on the college you attend.


What happens if you live in Florida and go to school in Alaska (does anyone actually do that?!)? There’s no question you’ll need a new wardrobe in that case. Think about needing warm-weather gear like a winter coat, boots, warmer clothing and more.

Quatromoney Manage Your Funding Gap for College Costs



Okay, books aren’t completely unexpected, but what could be really unexpected is the total cost of books. University bookstores often have higher prices. Look for the rented textbooks, used books or e-books, which are cheaper than new textbooks. 


Another thing you can do is wait for a week or so before you buy your books, just in case you decide to drop the class. You may also want to borrow books from the local or school library or split the cost and share the book with a classmate.


Apartment Rental Fees

Planning to live off campus? You’ll need to watch out for sneaky apartment rental fees. Here are just a few of the types of fees you may have to pay — application fee, security deposit, pet fee and administrative fees. Note: You may or may not have to pay these fees — or there may be other required fees not on this list.


Application Fee

Application fees, which you pay to apply for an apartment in the first place, typically cost between $30 and $50, but some landlords may charge you up to $100, according to Landlordology. Expect to pay larger fees in a competitive real estate market.


Security Deposit

You’ll be required to pay a security deposit equal to one month's rent at move-in. You may even need to pay the security deposit and your first month's rent (and sometimes last month's rent as well) before you’ll see the glint of keys in your hand.


Pet Fee

Do you have a furry friend you’d like to have live in your apartment with you? Expect to pay between $200 and $500 for a one-time pet fee, according to Landlordology. The pet fee is a one-time cost and this fee won’t actually cover any damages the pet might cause inside the apartment.


Administrative Fees

The administrative fee is one that landlords sometimes add to cover their administrative costs. Specifically, these funds are used to check your credit, run a background check and pull your rental history and work history. Some of these fees are even required by law, according to CenterCoast. You may pay around $40 to $90 per tenant, although every once in a while it can cost more.

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Parking Fees

Do you plan to bring a car on campus? If so, you bet it’ll cost something. Parking on campus can range anywhere from $40 per semester to $2,500 but parking on campus in larger cities usually costs more, according to Affordable Schools.

Car Maintenance

You know you’ll need to pay car insurance like clockwork every six months, but what can show up (surprise!) is car maintenance. What happens when your alternator or transmission clunks out?

Having a car on campus is not necessary in most cases — and you may realize that you can’t afford the car upkeep and maintenance if the worst does happen. In addition, you’ll avoid parking fees as well.


You may need to pay for other modes of transportation as well. In fact, The College Board estimated that, on average, a college student will spend between $1,050 and $1,800 on transportation per year. (This may include bus costs, flights home, fuel to make trips home for breaks, etc.) 


Well, when you need one electronic device, you might need more! A computer, TV, printer, noise-cancelling headphones (a necessity due to that noisy roommate), Bluetooth speaker, flash drive… the list goes on and on. Naturally, this can amount to a lot of money.

Greek Life Dues

 you know that going Greek results in some major fees on your part? Experts say membership fees for chapters vary among different campuses — it can cost $200 to more than $3,000 a semester — depending on the school you attend and the chapter you pledge, according to U.S. News and World Report.


How much can you spend on college dorm room decor? The sky’s the limit! Type in “college decor” and sales have already started at all retail stores, from Wayfair to Target and a gazillion more. 

Quatromoney Helps You Know College Costs


This is a great time to get familiar with budgets and how to take responsibility for your money. 

The Odd Pizza or Night Out

It may be a little trickier to figure out how much you might spend on entertainment and socializing before you become a first-year student. However, this is also something that can get out of hand really fast. Offering to buy pizza for your whole dorm floor might not be the best idea. 

Again, this is a great time to learn how to budget!


What’s the Best Way to Determine Unexpect College Fees?

This list of fees for college can get long and overwhelming. Between tuition, room and board, you may even find these fees: 

  • Health and wellness fees
  • Orientation fees
  • Course-related fees
  • Distance education fees
  • Athletic fees
  • Environment fees
  • New student fees

You might face even more specific fees, like education practicum fees or field biology fees. 


So, how exactly do you pinpoint the exact fees you’ll pay?


Contact the student account office at the college you plan to attend for a full list of fees you’ll need to pay. Be aware that the financial aid office will only be able to help you out with mandatory college-related costs and expenses, of course — not fees like apartment rental fees. However, financial aid professionals at your college may be able point you in the right direction, no matter what fees you’re researching. 


Finally, don’t let fees get you down, particularly if you’re a first-year student. You’ll get savvier as you learn more about college life and where you can hack away at costs. By the time you’re a fourth year or beyond, you may be able to save a lot of money on various fees and even learn how to save money with college dorm hacks


Photograph of Melissa Brock
Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and is also the Money editor at Benzinga. She spent 12 years working in college admission, then turned to freelancing and editing. Nothing invigorates her more than writing about college and money and helping families navigate the college search process. 

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