College is expensive, and the costs appear to be rising. According to “How America Pays for College,” a recent study released by Sallie Mae, in the 2014-2015 academic year, the average family spent $24,164 on college fees, which represents a 16% increase from the previous year.

Many college students and their parents mistakenly think that tuition is the only cost that they need to prepare for. However, whether students major in English, biology or business there are many costs associated with the higher education experience–and they can add up rather quickly.

Room and Board

At many in-state universities, tuition isn’t even the biggest expense, according to Sean Moore, the founder of SMART College Funding. Moore says at many public schools, room and board cost more than tuition. According to research from U.S. News & World Report, the average student paid approximately $10,000 for room and board in the 2014-2015 school year. 


“While some colleges, especially public universities may promise lower tuition, they tend to increase costs,” says Mike Pelosi, the digital media director for CardBlanc’s personal finance education platform for young adults. He explains that this allows schools to keep the sticker price low although the final bill is much higher. “ It’s not uncommon to see a course that costs say, $2000 to take, but the final bill is $2300 due to fees. Over the course of 120 credits this adds up,” says Pelosi. These additional charges may vary by institution but can include student activity fees, health fees, and library fees. 

A 2013 report by the General Accounting Office found that the cost of college textbooks increased by 82% from 2002 to 2012. “Books will run $100-$400 per semester, and for students in medicine/engineering/science, it’s on the higher side,” says Pelosi. Used or rented books are an option. However, to get around that, Pelosi says many colleges are starting to self-publish their own books—which usually cannot be found online. That being said, it's important to be aware of copyright laws when using self-published books.


“Very few meal plans are all-inclusive, and students should budget extra money for meals away from school,” advises Moore. Students who eat out instead of preparing food–either by choice or because their dorm rooms are not equipped with ovens could spend exuberant amounts of money on dining out.


Those club memberships may look impressive on your resume, but they’re not free. According to Pelosi, students could pay between $150 - $200 per membership fee. Further, Pelosi says that there are alternative ways of getting the benefits you'd receive from a club, “The proliferation of online job boards, LinkedIn, and other connective technology has eroded the ability of clubs and organizations to deliver the promised goods of jobs and connections.” He adds that fraternities and sororities also have associated fees.   

Testing Fees

If students are going into a professional program, such as nursing, pre-law, or pre-med, they will likely have to pay testing fees Pelosi says, “You’ll need extra funds for test prep courses, the materials for those courses, registration fees, and associated travel costs to actually take the test.”  For instance, Pelosi says, “If you’re an education major, there are at least three tests–in general education testing and concentration you will have to take before obtaining a license.” He says this can cost an extra $1000.


For students bringing a car, Moore says to factor in the cost of insurance, parking, and maintenance. And if students travel home during the year, Pelosi says multiple plane rides or train trips throughout the course of four years adds up. 


Depending on the major, students may need to purchase software. “For example, when I was completing my M.A. in Economics and Statistics, I had to purchase STATA, Minitab, and SPSS, and pay for training resources to learn this,” says Pelosi. He adds, “Computer scientists, graphic artists, statisticians/math majors, and closely associated majors all need certain software and hardware components not included in the cost of a class.” 

Dropped Classes 

“While often uncomfortable, a discussion about taking extra classes or needing to repeat a class is important,” says Moore. He advises families to realistically budget for how long will it take the student to graduate. “Unfortunately, the four-year degree has become the exception rather than the rule, and families may need to budget for an extra year, or two.”

Other Considerations

If a family uses loans to pay for school, Moore says they need to project how much will be needed to pay off those loans with interest. “Also, if parents tap into or stop contributing to retirement funds during the college years, how much longer will they need to work to make up for the lost time?” These are questions that Moore says many families fail to take into account.

The Bottom Line

College is expensive, and tuition isn’t the only cost. By knowing the various other expenses involved in higher education, students, and their parents can effectively plan to avoid unpleasant financial surprises. (Read more on the topic, here: Top 6 Ways To Cut Your Tuition Bill.)