What Are the “Hidden Costs” of College?

Dear College Made Simple reader,

Over the next few weeks, high school seniors will start receiving a variety of financial aid offers from colleges and universities.

Of course there are a number of variables that go into choosing where you’ll eventually go. But until you know what the aid offer is, you don’t really know what you’ll be paying for any school.

What’s more, the cost of attending college can vary wildly in plenty of ways beyond tuition and financial aid. Today, we’ll take a look at a number of them.

– Scott

The “Hidden Costs” of College

Living Arrangements

Some colleges offer cheap student housing for all four years. Meanwhile, some colleges force students out of the dorms after freshman year. And some schools don’t have dorms at all.

Point is – Find out if your college estimates the cost of off-campus living for later years in its room and board, or not. Many will give the dorm estimates… even though dorms might not be available.

If you’re going to pay for off-campus living at some point, the location of the college suddenly matters a lot more. A small town in Nebraska will be a lot cheaper than a school in Boston or Manhattan. That difference can make a large difference in price – especially if dorms are only guaranteed for the first (freshman) year.

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If you’re in New York, you’re most likely going to need to ride the subway often. How much will a monthly subway card cost?

If you’re on a remote campus, are you going to have a car? How necessary is it for getting around? How much will car insurance cost in that town? Do you have to pay for garage parking?

Some schools are well-contained, and have virtually no day-to-day travel expenses. For others, a car is nearly a necessity. There is plenty of in between… but, as you can imagine, a school with minimal travel expenses can make a huge difference in the cost of attendance. And most of the time, the cost of a car (or other travel) isn’t figured into a university’s cost-of-living numbers.


Nearly every school has meal plans. But not every school offers it to all students – such as those who live off-campus. And a number of college cultures wind up skipping the cheap eats of the cafeteria for the better quality available in town.

This often winds up being the biggest hidden cost of attending college. If you’re in a small university town with little fare beyond the school’s walls, then the cost of eating won’t be big.

But if your school is in the middle of a large city – and especially if students eat away from cafeterias often – then the cost of food can be a nasty surprise on your budget.

Most schools figure board into their cost-of-living numbers… but not a lot factor in a high degree of eating out or takeout food. Going to school in a major city offers plenty of opportunities for new experiences – but those costs can quickly add up.

There are plenty of other hidden expenses – including the biggest one of all: NOT graduating in 4 years.

Fact is, the U.S. Dept. of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics determined that only 44% of full-time students graduated from college within 4 years of enrollment (based on a study it conducted in 2008).

That’s why it’s imperative to be laser focused on graduating in 4 years (and not the national average of 5 ½ years.)

Just remember – when you’re weighing the costs of college, don’t forget the hidden ones.

To your college funding & admissions success,

Scott Weingold

Co-Founder, College Planning Network LLC

Publisher, CollegeMadeSimple.com – The free educational resource of College Planning Network

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Editor's Note: Scott Weingold has been ranked the #1 “College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About” in the entire country by CollegeStats.org.  He has co-authored the book, “The Real Secret To Paying For College. The Insider’s Guide To Sending Your Child To College – Without Spending Your Life’s Savings.” Scott also publishes a popular free online newsletter, “College Funding Made Simple" which reveals insider’s tips, methods, and strategies for beating the high cost of college.

Scott is the co-founder and a principal of the widely renown College Planning Network, LLC – the nation’s largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid planning firm. CPN is a proud member of the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of College Funding Advisors, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Scott, along with his college funding advisory team, helps thousands of families throughout the country with their college planning needs and offers a series of free educational webinars and workshops on “How To Pay For College Without Going Broke In The Process!” He's been featured or mentioned in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo News, TheStreet.com, Voice America with Ron Adams, Crains Cleveland Business, and on Cleveland Connection with James McIntyre.  Scott has published numerous articles and is a professional speaker who has addressed thousands of audiences online and offline throughout the United States.  His actionable insights and candid, open approach have earned him & his team numerous media interviews, citations, and speaking opportunities, and his free online video workshop is one of the Internet’s most widely viewed pieces in the college funding space.