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When college discussions turn to costs, the conversation nearly always centers on tuition.
But a college’s true cost includes much more than just tuition. Add in the costs for room and board, textbooks, movie nights, restaurant meals, transportation … the list goes on and on. Suffice it to say that the true cost of college is nearly always several thousand dollars more than the tuition price you are first quoted.
If cutting college costs is a priority, however, potential applicants should know where to look for hidden (and not-so-hidden) fees in order to choose schools they can truly afford.
First of all, location plays a huge role in room and board costs. Consider attending a college in a small town or more rural area. Living expenses — especially for off-campus apartments — will nearly always be cheaper than abodes in large cities. Or you may want to live with your parents and attend a college close to home, cutting room and board costs altogether.
Is a dorm room in your future? The price of living in a dorm can vary based on the type of room you choose and the number of amenities. A room with air conditioning and a private bathroom will probably cost more than those with merely a window and showers down the hall. Choose accordingly.
Finally, you can save on board by choosing a meal plan that meets your specific needs. Don’t choose the 19-meal/week plan if you never eat breakfast! If you find that you consistently use less (or need more) meals than the plan you purchased, you may be able to change your meal plan at the end of the term.
Your college professors will provide you with a list of textbooks you will need for each class. But they won’t tell you where or how to get them.
Campus bookstores are easy one-stop-shops to buy nearly every book you will need for the semester. But that convenience often comes at a high cost. Even if the store carries used textbooks, the price might still be higher than you want to spend.
Instead, compare prices online. Another option: Buy the textbook directly from a student who took the college class the previous semester. It’s a win-win situation. You get a deal and the other student gets more money than the bookstore normally would offer.
By using the library, you sometimes can get your college books for free. This usually works best when novels are part of your required reading, but textbooks are occasionally available as well. Remember to check not only the college library, but also the city library.
If you purchase your books, be sure to sell them at the end of the term if you will not be using them again. Whether you do this online or at the bookstore, don’t dawdle. If you wait a semester or more, the professor could switch to a different textbook or instruct students to buy a newer edition — and you’re stuck with your Anthropology 101 textbook forever.
Movies, food, drink, a night out on the town. Chances are, you’ll need some extra cash when your fun takes you off campus.
Keep a budget, and (this is the important part) stick to it! Avoid depending too heavily on a credit card. Many college students get thousands of dollars of student loans along with their diploma, not to mention thousands more in credit card debt.
Again, the location of your college can determine how much you should budget. In general, the bigger the city, the higher the cost for everything from drinks to movie tickets.
Transportation costs in college widely vary based on the types of transportation available to you.
Have a car? Remember to budget for gas and insurance bills. Attending college in a town with public transit? Each ride costs money (although students sometimes get a discount). Plan to bike around campus? It’s a one-time investment, but you’ll need to purchase a bicycle and sturdy lock.
If you plan to attend college several states (or even an ocean) away, you’ll probably need to plan for an even bigger expense: airplane, bus or train tickets home during the holidays.
No list of college costs is ever complete. There will always be items clamoring for attention from a student’s wallet: cell phone plans, copying papers at the library, a late-night coffee to keep you awake while you study for tomorrow’s astronomy midterm.
But by knowing how much you are willing and able to spend at school, you can keep your college costs firmly within your budget without sacrificing any part of your ideal college experience.