The Hidden Costs of College

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

About the Author: Emma Schumann

Hi, I'm Emma Schumann. I'm a rising senior at Kansas State University and have been working as an intern at Mellen Money Management for the last 8 weeks. During my time at KSU, I have been a member of the marching band and play for the women's rugby team as their scrum-half. As an active member of the university, I am able to offer an insider's point of view around the financial side that parents and students alike could benefit from.

Small Expenses that Add Up

College has been a great experience so far. I am about to start my senior year and have learned a lot over the past three years. One thing I've learned is how to budget my life for very specific, college-related costs. There were a lot of small expenses that I didn't plan for going in. I thought I had it all together with my four year plan and budget to accompany.

What I didn't account for were the smaller costs that add up throughout the year. I had somehow forgotten that I would do more at school than live in a dorm and go to class. To help your students avoid the same mistake I made, here is a collection of additional expenses that students face throughout their college career.

Beginning of the School Year

The beginning of the school year always comes with lots of extra costs. In elementary school it was pencil boxes, teacher gifts and class holiday party fees. In middle and high school, extra costs included fees to play sports and to pay for school dance decorations.

These upfront fees, though not typically listed, only get bigger in college. Many of theses costs are forgotten because they are not lumped in with the bundle of tuition, room and board. Forgotten as they may be, they are all fees that go towards events and amenities that truly make the college experience worth it.

Athletic Passes

An athletic pass at my university, Kansas State, costs $235 for general admission seating or $295 for priority seating closer to midfield or mid-court. This is for both basketball and football. If you only want to buy season tickets to one sport, it is $150 for the season. While pricey, the seats are unbeatable and in my opinion, cheering on the Wildcats in Bill Snyder Family Stadium is the best way to spend a Saturday, so it’s worth it.

Fraternity/Sorority Dues

The cost of being in a fraternity or sorority depends on the school, popularity of Greek life, and the individual chapter. An estimation of multiple universities and chapters provides a range of $1,000-$2,000 in annual dues.

This does not include living in the house, if they have one, or any optional purchases. These purchases do not often feel optional. They include chapter-specific clothing and gifts. Practically every event in Greek life has an optional t-shirt that often gets purchased year in and year out. These $20 t-shirts add up quickly.

In addition to t-shirts, members are often required to dress in specific clothes for rush at the beginning of the year and throughout the year for parties or special occasions such as formal. Clothing alone could easily cost $500 a year.

Gifts are another big cost of Greek life. It is expected for a “big” to shower their “little” with gifts on the day of “Big, Little Reveal.” These little gifts and the supplies required to make them can add up to around $200 per year. When totaling all of these expenses, Greek life can easily cost the student another $2,200.

Parking Pass

At Kansas State University, a student parking pass is $180 per year, no matter if you live in a residence hall on campus or off campus. While this may seem steep, it is life-saving to the student as it prevents paying the dreaded parking tickets, which add up quite quickly.

Additional Costs Throughout the Year

There are quite a few expenses that are typical of most college students that will be incurred throughout the year. I encourage you to have a discussion with your child about these costs. Who will the responsibility of paying for these additional expenses fall on? Not only that, but talk to them to ensure they are aware ahead of time that these costs are common for many college students.

Club Fees

A great way to get involved on campus is to join clubs. Depending on the club, there may be fees or dues associated with it. At my university, a friend runs the hacky sack club, where over 50 members meet each week. The beauty of this club is it is a great place for people to meet new friends and is free! I am on the rugby team, which is technically a club. To be a part of this, I pay $40 for my team dues and $80 to be a member of USA Rugby for the year. This $120 is a great price for the experience, but adds up over time. Oftentimes clubs are seasonal, so these small expenses can pop up at random times throughout the year.

Professional Wardrobe

Many students enter college with one or two nice outfits that they wore to their first job interview when they were 16. These clothes work for a while, but the further one gets into college, especially once your student selects a major, they will begin to have their fair share of career fairs and meetings.

They are likely to meet with representatives of the same firms multiple times throughout their time in college. At these meetings they will be required to dress business casual or business professional. Going from the student who lives in sweatpants to needing a pantsuit for a day can be pricey. I would estimate I spent around $200 per year to upgrade to a more professional wardrobe.


If your student is taking a car with them to college, the cost of gas is a factor to consider. Depending on if they commute every day, drive around town with friends, or how often they come back home to visit, gas can become expensive quickly. A rough average of $40 per month could easily be spent on gas alone.

Spring Break Trip

The blessing that students get once a year is a break in the middle of the spring semester. This allows students to plan fun trips with friends and/or family all over the world. The one issue with this, is travel costs money.

If not prepared, students can feel left out as their friends are off spending a week on the beach or in the mountains while they’re stuck at home. Spring break trips are a great way to relax and finish the semester strong, but cost about $500 between plane tickets, hotel rooms and food for the week, and that is on the cheap end.

Going Out

It is no secret that when a child goes to college, they experiment with going out with their new friends. This can be anything from going to grab a burger when they get sick of the cafeteria food, to going out to the local bars for their “first” drink when they’re 21… We all know how that goes… Depending on the student, the cost of their favorite restaurant or the popular drinks near campus, and frequency of going out, they could spend anywhere from $10 to $100 per week.

Summary of Extra Costs

Below is a summarized list of all of the hidden costs previously discussed. This is an estimate of the annual average of additional costs beyond tuition, room and board.

Athletic Pass $295

Fraternity/Sorority Dues $2,200

Parking Pass $180

Club Fees $80

Professional Wardrobe $200

Gas ($40/month) $480

Spring Break Trip $500

Going Out ($20/week) $1,040

Annual Total: $4,975

Four Year Total: $19,900

Before you start to sweat, remember that not every student is going to be involved with everything mentioned above. In fact, most will not. But this guide can provide a place to start thinking about the other costs of college that are often forgotten.

These are just a few of the bigger expenses that many students will have in college. Use it as a guide to jump start a conversation with your child entering college about what it will actually cost beyond the sticker price. While this list may be overwhelming, the most important thing to remember is that college is a time to have fun. It is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experiment and do all of these activities to find out what you like and don’t like. Consider the costs, but remember that the experience is often worth it.

If you have further questions:

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