Paying for College

College Cost Cutting

Tuition, room, and board costs are just the beginning of paying for college. Those "incidentals" (if you can consider a $300 text book an incidental) can really add up. For those of you about-to-be college "freshpersons" (observing the proper gender-neutral PC protocol here) who may not understand what all is involved in the incidental category, here's a little exercise.

Imagine a bare college dorm room inside of which you will live from September (maybe even sooner) into May. Now, to make your portion of that bare room into your own domain, you'll have to personalize it. What will you need to personalize it, you ask? Well, look around your own room at home. What kinds of things do you see there? Sure, there are key items, such as your computer and maybe a TV or 'fridge, but look closer. There are a lot of smaller items you may be taking for grated. How about sheets and other bedding materials? How about laundry supplies? (You do intend to wash your clothes now and then, don't you?) How about lamps, and printer paper, and ink cartridges, and wall decorations, and . . . Get the picture, so to speak?

Well, that little lecture was just to get you warmed up for some other expenses you and likely your parents should be prepared to pay. Being accepted into college is a big and exciting accomplishment. It marks the day that your parents finally have to start digging in that old college fund they have saved up over the years (assuming that they have saved up). With the cost of attendance going up every year, it can become difficult to fund when you include the other significant added expenses (beyond bed sheets and printer paper) that are not always considered during the application process. Once you go to college, you'll be required to purchase your own textbooks, be responsible for your own food, insurance, transportation, and living expenses. With that in mind, here are some helpful tips by The College Tourist that can help parents and students keep these additional costs to a minimum.

Text Books:

Depending on the degree or course, some textbooks are more expensive than others. Definitely consider using the used books or rent the textbook. Some of the book stores associated with the school, for example, Barnes and Noble, are joining up with campuses around the nation to incorporate the library and bookstore. Also, check book prices online and make sure the delivery date is before your actual course starts.

Health Insurance:

If you are an international student, you might find U.S. health insurance a lot more expensive than your current plan. Antibiotics, flu injections, strep tests, and yearly medicals can be very costly, so make sure you check if you can use your current coverage internationally or sign up with a plan that is offered through your university. Most colleges have on-campus doctors, medical centers on campus, or an affiliation with a local hospital that offers doctors on rotation with the campus.

Meal Plans:

Once you decide where you are living, on or off campus, decide on the meal plan. You might find that some meal plans are a little pricey. Weigh your options from a basic plan to an extensive one, depending on your schedule. Think about whether you are on a sports team, travel a lot, whether you are in a fraternity or sorority, or if you prepare your own meals.


Public transportation to the nearest airport or nearest city or just to get home can prove to be expensive. Check to see if there are free shuttle services available, especially at major holiday times. If you're not near a major city or town, you can check on the community bulletin board within the college to see if other students are driving to your destination and sign up for a lift. Check the costs of airfares and train costs in advance.

Extracurricular activities:

Some on-campus activities require a membership fee or activity fee. Joining a sorority or fraternity comes with pledge fees and being involved in philanthropic event participation that can incur a substantial amount of additional expense. Be aware of the costs before you pledge. Events on campus, like concerts, can have a high ticket price and being a part of a sports team also requires extra funds, depending on the sport.

Living Expenses/Housing:

If you live off campus you will need to furnish your living space. Bedding, dining table and chairs, and kitchen supplies are just the start of what is required to live off campus. Consider flea markets or second-hand stores for tables and chairs. Also check with student bulletin boards for items on sale from students moving out.

Study Abroad:

If you are considering studying abroad, limit what you might need for your apartment or dorm room; you'll just have to sell it or have it removed. When studying abroad, the fees will probably include a meal plan, but consider the fact that exploring the destination and culture is all part of the adventure, so you will need extra funds to eat like a local and do some extra activities that may not be in the school package. Also check the currency exchange; your local dollar might not go as far as you think.


Remember: Common sense, reusing your existing possessions, and planning ahead can save you lots of money over your undergraduate years. The bank account you preserve may be your own!


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.