Last Chance! We’re Giving Away $50,000! Enter Now. See Official Rules

8 Hidden College Expenses

From administrative to social activity fees, these costs make campus life pricey

The Cost of College

A college education is expensive enough before you add in a slew of back-end fees, hidden expenses and questionable surcharges. Unfortunately, most families don’t find out about these costs until the bill arrives. Colleges and universities typically bury these charges in the fine print on their websites, or they may mask costs by combining a bunch of fees into a single charge. Here are eight hidden college costs from my forthcoming book, College Secrets, that often surprise parents and students alike.


Graduation Fees

Before college grads can get their diplomas, students typically get hit with an exit tax of sorts: graduation fees that can run from $25 to $200. Many universities impose a fee for the cap, gown and tassel. Never mind that students don’t get to keep those items; they’re paying for a rental. Even if students can’t make their ceremony, certain campuses charge a fee for students graduating “in absentia.”

Other schools levy the fee as an administrative cost for the expense of creating, printing and mailing the long-awaited diploma. Some schools charge this fee to ensure a student has met all of his or her academic requirements for graduation.


Parking Fees

Most U.S. colleges charge students for the privilege of having a car on campus, and it isn’t cheap. The average school generates roughly $635 per space and about $4 million to $5 million in total annual parking-fee revenues, according to recent studies from the National Parking Association. Some schools even assess parking fees for students who don’t drive.


Printing Fees

How much will it cost to print out a final exam? A lot of schools charge for printing papers and presentations. Costs can be as much as $1 per page. If your school doesn’t include printing as part of tuition and fees, you can probably get better deals at copying service businesses like FedEx Office or Gnomon Copy. It’s always good to think green and see if assignments can be submitted electronically. Not only will it help save a few trees, you’ll also save a few bucks.


Tuition Creep

Your scholar will likely face higher tuition charges year after year due to tuition inflation, which recently has been in the 3 to 5 percent range annually. And those rate hikes pale in comparison to what’s happened over the past decade, when the rate of tuition growth was about 8 percent.

Tuition creep, in the form of ever-rising prices, is a hidden cost for most students in America. Look for a school that guarantees tuition will stay the same over the course of a four-year education.


Greek Life

What college representatives don’t tell you about Greek life is the cost to join: between $1,000 and $4,000. Pledging a fraternity or sorority typically brings other expenses such as charitable contributions, service projects and trips, as well as formals and rush events. The social events may require fancy formalwear that the average student doesn’t currently own.

Getty Images

College Memorabilia

Buying a couple of these items is fine, but many schools go into marketing overdrive to encourage students to acquire all sorts of school memorabilia. It’s not just the sweatshirt. It’s everything and anything with the school logo, mascot or colors — shower curtains, key chains, trash cans, you name it. Depending on how carried away you get, it can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year.

Getty Images

Sporting Events

Colleges throughout the country encourage students to attend sporting events. While they can be lots of fun, collegiate sports are a big business in America. Although some campuses offer students free or discounted admission to athletic events, many schools push season passes, game tickets and other packages on students. That can generate as much as a few hundred dollars a year per student.

Getty Images

Replacement Fees

When students lose anything school-issued, such as ID cards, meal cards or dorm keys, there’s almost always a replacement fee. The typical charge is from $10 to $50, depending on the item.


  • Pinterest
  • Google+

More Articles & Slideshows

ways to save money shopping lawn home care dishes spa services credit cards cheap eats hobbies gas fuel bills finances home repair (Chris Gash)

99 Ways to Save Money
Tips and tricks to saving money on travel, health care, food and more

famous celebrities save coupon clip frugal life savings yeager cheap rich famous dollar stretch

Frugal Celebrities
You’ll be surprised how these wealthy celebrities stretch their dollars


Also of Interest

Join AARP Today — Receive access to exclusive information, benefits and discounts

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


The Cheap Life

Jeff Yeager Cheap Life Ultimate Cheapskate AARP YouTube web series save money

Catch the latest episode of The Cheap Life starring Jeff Yeager, AARP's Ultimate Cheapskate. Watch

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Member Benefits HomeServe

Members can protect their homes with comprehensive repair plans from HomeServe.

AARP Credit card from Chase

Members can get cash back rewards on purchases with the AARP® Credit Card from Chase.

Woman holding smartphone in city, Google map tool

Members can find discounts on the go via the AARP® Member Advantages Offer Finder app.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points


Advance your skills. Transform your career.

Explore your learning possibilities.