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Parents, Are You Watching Out for These 11 Hidden College Costs?

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

The hidden costs of college have been burning parents and students alike for decades. And it is getting worse with each flip of the calendar year.

College tuition is already the most inflated expense in America. But then tossing in hidden college costs adds insult to financial injury.

college campus

Now is the time to plan for these often invisible expenses associated with getting a degree. After reading the following 11 expenses to watch out for, you will be better prepared to avoid them and keep more money in your pocket.

*During the 2021 / 2022 school year, the average parent covered about 43% of their student’s college costs using income and savings (Sallie Mae).

**About 80% of college students say they’ve encountered an unexpected college expense at least once (Finmasters).

The statistics above show that the high cost of college affects a ton of people and isn’t just a burden to those in class. But to the parents who hope to see a brighter future for their children.


But the following sneaky expenses are making that goal more expensive than it should be.

#1 Interest. Everyone knows student loans have interest to pay back but it’s easier to ignore than say your car loan interest. Why? It is easy to ignore if you don’t begin making payments until after graduation. A car payment is ‘felt’ 30 days after driving the red Honda Civic home.

*The average student loan borrower on a standard 10-year repayment plan will pay $5,994.07 in interest alone over the course of 10 years (Bankrate Calculator)

(5.8% is the average interest rate among all student loans, federal and private)

#2 Health fees. You read that right. Many colleges require health insurance for students. This cost can be in the thousands of dollars yearly. Stanford’s plan costs nearly $7,000 per year. Many parents have their college-aged kids on their health insurance plans and can get a waiver for the college health plan - but only if their current insurance meets university requirements.

#3 U.S. News reports the high cost of college dining to be up to $9,000 a year on the extreme end! Often, this cost is a requirement, especially for first-year students. There is the incalculable benefit of socializing over school meals, yet, there are tons of pitfalls with this hidden college cost. Examples include not liking menu options and losing meal credits if the student transfers.

#4 Lack of education is costly. I agree 100% that filling out financial aid forms is about as complex as IRS forms. However, this tedious and complicated process can save families gobs of money on college tuition. Since your student is doing homework already in high school, they should also study up on FAFSA forms from their sophomore year onward. Imagine the hidden costs they and you could avoid with this extra knowledge of an overpriced system.

#5 To be or not to be furnished. Tours can answer the question of dorm room furnishings. Some universities provide the basics but not a couch, table, and recliner. Be sure to inquire about where little Johnny is going to sleep at night or you could be forced to buy expensive new furniture at the last minute.

dorm room

#6 Course fees. Could be called ‘fee fees’ in my opinion. These college fees pop up for specific courses. Perhaps to pay for microscopes in lab-related courses. Although it seems like Harvard could afford such equipment without add-on fees, right? The University of Georgia too since their football program alone generated $203 million for fiscal year 2021-2022! More on athletic-related fees coming up…

#7 Hidden college group fees. Yahoo reports joining a sorority can average between $1,000 and $4,750 per semester. Yet, many parents and students see joining a group on campus as part of the normal costs. Double-check all assumptions to save sticker shock down the line. (UT Austin, for example, offers over 1,000 different student organization opportunities!)

#8 Late fees are good practice for the ‘real world’. Old-school video rental stores made much of their profit from late fees and universities collect a handsome amount in these hidden college fees too. Late fees can be as high as… $500 at some schools.

#9 Secret opt-out fees. It is plain wrong to set up college costs for ‘perks’ that a student may not want but is automatically enrolled in. Such as parking costs. Many schools rake in this extra money because students are required to opt out in order to avoid these college fees. Be aware.

#10 Back to college sports - they are big business and business is good! Even better when students pay to support these programs without even realizing it. Check your tuition bill, kids and parents. This is a hidden college cost that makes little sense. NBC did a recent report that found these fees are often purposely left off tuition bills and get this… “4 out of 5 of Division I public universities charge students a fee to finance sports teams.”

college football

#11 This last college cost we’ll discuss is one that can hinder a student for years. Getting behind on college expenses can have dire consequences. It can keep students from re-enrolling until unpaid fees are caught up. Plus, students can get turned over to collection agencies and have their credit scores damaged. The news quote below shows this is a common issue.

“Some 2,100 students in the Los Angeles Community College District who withdrew between fall 2019 and summer 2021 owed federal aid reimbursement money to their school, according to data from district officials. In total, students owe the district $10 million for all debts.”

Wow. I may do a follow-up to this article on hidden college fees because I uncovered more than I would have imagined beforehand. In the meantime, I encourage both parents and students to get ahead of this costly issue.

Don’t get caught by surprise. Study every possible expense associated with going to college and ensure you don’t get ripped off.


Expected college tuition in plain sight is not cheap. But pile on sneaky fees and unnecessary money-grabs by universities, and the result is young people and parents suffering even more financial burdens.

Investment advice offered through Private Advisor Group, LLC, a registered investment advisor.

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