Startling College Costs You Probably Didn’t Include in Your Budget

It doesn’t matter whether you’re 18 or you’re 45 — college is expensive. Because higher education is such a simple way to dramatically increase your earning potential and quality of life, the costs of college should hardly deter you from seeking the degree you want or need. As long as you have a proper budget and payment plan, you should make it through your program with minimal financial discomfort.

However, most college budgets are anything but thorough. It’s more than likely that you are forgetting some significant or even unexpected costs. That will likely put you into financial distress. Fortunately, this guide can help you factor in those unexpected college-related costs — or help you avoid them entirely.

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Admissions Tests

It’s likely that you factored the cost of applying to college into your budget. The most expensive colleges cost over $70 to apply; even affordable online schools can charge $20 just to submit an application. Often, advanced degree programs are even more expensive, despite the lower numbers of applicants schools receive. You must be aware of the cost of each of your target programs, so you won’t go bankrupt before you even start your higher education.

Yet, there is one costly aspect of admissions that many students overlook: Tests. For undergraduate programs, the SAT and ACT cost over $50 per attempt, and sending the results to colleges can add to that amount. Graduate-level tests, like the GRE and GMAT, are even more expensive, costing hundreds of dollars per attempt—not including the test-taking practice that often precedes the tests, which can cost around $1000 per six- or eight-week course. It is possible to avoid these unexpected costs by finding programs that don’t require admissions testing; for example, you can apply for a legitimate online MBA, no GMAT required from accredited universities.


You might have budgeted for initial travel to different schools—which, as part of the extensive application process, can cost thousands of dollars in airfare and hotel accommodations—but it is possible to spend the same amount every semester on travel during college. Schools typically only have enough on-campus housing to accommodate underclassmen. Thus, many students must commute to campus every day by purchasing tickets for public transit—or worse, driving personal vehicles. Cars are immense expenses, but more importantly, an on-campus parking pass can cost hundreds of dollars.

Again, going to school online virtually eliminates these costs. Most universities offer both hybrid and fully online programs, so students can attend classes from anywhere — including overseas. However, not all degrees are suitable for online learning. Your ability to cut these costs might depend on what you study in college.

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Most of your effort in college should be devoted to your classes. However, that doesn’t mean you should keep your nose in your books at all times. In fact, your studies might be benefited greatly by attending some of the events offered by the university and related organizations. For example, clubs can connect you with like-minded students, helping you expand your social and professional network. Clubs often organize events to help members meet and accomplish goals. Similarly, business schools sometimes put together conferences or fairs to introduce students to successful professionals in their chosen fields.

Unfortunately, rarely are these events totally free. You should investigate common costs for clubs and student organizations related to your field. Add those to your annual or semester budget. You might also need to think about appropriate clothing for those events, which could require more professional attire than students typically wear.


Tuition, course fees, and books are the three biggest expenses students face, but studying has other costs you can’t discount. Students of today need a fully outfitted office, with a fast, powerful computer, a printer, and plenty of office supplies, to include paper, pens, highlighters, and more. Though your study materials will depend, once again, on your field and your studying habits, you should expect to drop a few hundred dollars every semester on extra materials to keep your notes organized and effective. Finally, to keep your brain energized while you read and reread information, you’ll need nutritious snacks—but whether you factor this into your food budget or your studying budget is up to you.

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