10 Sneaky College Fees That Could Break Your Budget

You’ll pay for more than just tuition and room and board, so start prepping your budget now.
Updated April 3, 2023
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Many families send their students off to college thinking that, as long as tuition is covered, their babies won’t have to pay another dime. We hate to break it to you, but that is absolutely incorrect.

The full college experience costs money — and you’ll pay some of that money whether you want to or not. Keep reading for 10 hidden college fees you can’t afford to ignore.

Athletic fees

kudosstudio/Adobe female volleyball players huddling together before starting the game

Planning to play college sports? Avoiding the football field at all costs? It doesn’t matter either way — you might still be an unwitting benefactor of your school’s athletic program.

At many institutions across the U.S., undergraduate students are charged an athletic fee, whether they’re on a sports team or not. Of the universities that require students to contribute to their athletic programs, the amount charged runs the gamut. The University of Kentucky, for example, only bills students $14, while the Virginia Military Institute imposes over $3,000 in annual athletic fees.

Technology fees

Drobot Dean/Adobe attractive young girl student studying at the college library

Technology fees are twofold: Your institution might charge you a tech usage fee, but you’ll also need to invest in technology of your own.

On the university side, these fees cover things like campus WiFi, student email accounts, and digital library access. If your college charges you for its tech services, it could either be a flat rate per term or a per-credit-hour fee that varies with your course load.

When it comes to your personal technology expenses, you decide how much you want to spend. Even if you’re not an online student, you’ll likely need a laptop to complete your coursework. You may also need to budget for printing costs or buy a printer of your own.

Greek life

4kclips/Adobe Sorority houses at the University of Louisville

Pledging a fraternity or sorority? Plan on paying anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand in annual dues. You might pay these all at once or over the course of a quarter or semester.

Keep in mind, too, that there are other, less obvious fees that come with becoming a frat brother or sorority sister. While your dues might help cover the cost of events or maintaining a chapter house, you may also be expected to pony up for gifts for fellow members or buy formal wear for special occasions.

Parking and transportation

ColleenMichaels/Adobe University of Washington campus security vehicle in the campus parking lot

How much you spend on parking and transportation depends not only on your campus, but also on your living arrangements. If you live off campus and take a bus or subway to school, you’ll need a public transportation pass or fare for tickets and tokens.

If you drive your own car, however, you’ll need to pay for gas, regular maintenance, vehicle taxes, and registration fees, and probably a university parking pass, too. Transportation fees can really add up for commuters, so consider this your sign to explore the best side hustles for extra cash.

Lab fees

WavebreakMediaMicro/Adobe science students working in the laboratory

Even if you’re not a science major, your university may still require you to take one or two science classes as part of your general studies. And if they do, be prepared to pay for the accompanying lab fees.

These fees go toward lab supplies, equipment, and maintenance. They typically run around $150 per course, but the cost could be more or less depending on your institution.

Study abroad

ViDi Studio/Adobe Young african american girl teen student in denim clothes

Studying abroad is a life-changing experience, but it can come with a high price tag. While your domestic financial aid usually pays for tuition at your host university, you’ll likely be on the hook for everything else, including airfare, vaccinations, and visa fees.

Be aware, too, of currency conversion rates and cost-of-living differences. If the U.S. dollar is weaker than local currency or if daily expenses run higher than in the States, you’ll need to adjust your budget accordingly.

Watch out for foreign transaction fees, as well. These can add up quickly, especially if you don’t have one of the best credit cards for students traveling internationally.

Health insurance

sitthiphong/Adobe businessman in the office fill out insurance policy

Many institutions require students to have some form of health insurance. Some will go so far as to automatically enroll students in the university’s health plan, only dropping the fee if matriculants can prove they’re covered under another policy.

Average university health insurance fees range from $2,000 to $4,000 — not exactly pocket change. If your school has a student insurance mandate, compare their plan cost and coverage to that of a private insurance policy to see which option makes the most sense for you. And don’t forget that dependent children can stay on their parent’s health insurance plan until age 26.

Textbooks and access codes

Prostock-studio/Adobe overwhelmed black teenage student holding big stack of books

Ah, textbooks: so good for the brain, not so great for the wallet. The chances of you coasting through college without buying books is slim to none, making this fee virtually unavoidable.

If your school has a textbook rental program, you can lease your books from your university by paying a flat fee each semester. Most universities, however, require students to purchase their textbooks outright. Under this model, your textbook expenses will vary from term to term, and you likely won’t know how much your books cost until just before you need them.

For that reason, budgeting for books can be exceptionally difficult, particularly if you need to buy one-time-use access codes in addition to physical textbooks. Play it safe, and set aside at least $150-250 per class. You can also save money by skipping the school bookstore and renting textbooks from third-party suppliers.

Orientation fees

Rawpixel.com/Adobe multi-ethnicity college students

New student orientation can be exciting, nerve-wracking…and expensive. Several universities charge first-year and transfer students an orientation fee, sometimes requiring them to fork over upwards of $300.

Your school might also bill you for any plus-ones who attend orientation with you. Planning on bringing the entire family? Be prepared to pay extra.

Graduation fees

michaeljung/Adobe african female college graduate at graduation

They charge you to show up, they charge you to get out. Believe it or not, many institutions now implement commencement fees for their seniors. You might be charged a graduation application fee, or you may have to pay if you want to walk in the commencement ceremony.

If you do plan to walk, note that your convocation wardrobe is a separate expense, and the gown alone could run $50 or more.

Bottom line

LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe happy teenage girl and mother

College is anything but cheap, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any more affordable. Still, it’s a necessary and worthwhile step for many aspiring professionals.

Parents, use this opportunity to help your young scholars learn about building and protecting their credit scores, avoiding impulse purchases, and being disciplined enough to save.

Students, ask for help when you need it, and practice finding balance between enjoying the now and preparing your finances for the future. If you manage your money carefully, you won’t have to trade fun for frugality.

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Author Details

Sarah Sheehan Sarah Sheehan is a former teacher turned writer, coach, and serial entrepreneur. She has four businesses and counting, including The Follow Through Firm and DefiantEd. When she's not writing or coaching, she's waiting on her dogs hand and paw.