The Hidden Costs of College

Jeremy Caldwell ‘19, Tufts University

Let’s face it: college can be expensive. CollegeFindMe can help you figure out different types of financial aid available to you, ways to avoid application costs, and even give you scholarships, but there are still some hidden costs when you actually get to college. So let’s break down some additional expenses you might run into, and how to get around them.

Room and board

What is it? This is the biggest additional costs that most colleges won’t tell you when advertising their tuition cost. “Room” refers to your dorm room, and “board” refers to facility maintenance, cleaning, services, and, most importantly, food! 

How much? The average room and board cost at a public school is $10,800 per year, on top of tuition costs. It jumps to $12,200 at private schools.

How to save. Most schools will require you to live on campus for at least the first year or two, so it’s hard to get around this cost. However, if you can find cheaper housing off campus and commute to campus, you can end up saving a lot of money. Similarly, you might not be able to get around the food costs at first (most schools will ask you to join a meal plan with a certain number of meals provided to you every week), but you can reduce your meal plan and start cooking for yourself if you have access to a kitchen.


What is it? Unlike high school, most classes you take in college will require multiple books to get you through the class.

How much? The average student spends $1,250 per year on books for classes.

How to save. There are lots of ways to work around textbook costs. 

  • Share with friends. If you and your friends are taking the same class, share a textbook! Work out a schedule to pass around the textbook, or study together.
  • Ask former students. Chances are, someone you know or another student in your major has taken the same class as you. Ask if they still have their old textbooks. Odds are, they’d be thrilled to sell them for really cheap!
  • Talk with your professor. Your professor will definitely have a copy of the textbook, and might be willing to share their copy with you. They might also let you know if a textbook is “recommended” rather than “required,” which means you don’t actually have to buy it. 
  • Rent. As long as you take good care of your books, you can save a lot of money by renting books online and returning them at the end of the semester. 


What is it? Many schools will ask you to have a laptop or computer to get you through classes and homework. 

How much? The average laptop costs $470, depending on what features you want. 

How to save. Know what you want out of a laptop. If you only need to use the internet and write papers, a simple Chromebook will have all the features you need and save you a lot of mooney. Don’t pay for more features than you need. 

Dorm furnishings

What is it? When you get your dorm room, you’ll be provided a bed, desk, and dresser, or maybe more. But you’ll still need to get sheets, blankets, pillows, and decorations. 

How much? The average cost to furnish a dorm is $125.

How to save. Rather than buying all new things for your room, take some items from home to your dorm. This will help you save a lot on decorations and make you feel more at home. A lot of stores like Target, Walmart, and K-Mart also do great back-to-school sales for dorm furnishings. 

Avoiding Application Costs

Meghna Chhabra ‘20, Prospect Hill Academy

You’ve taken your tests. You’ve written your essays. You’re ready to submit your applications, but there’s one more piece of the puzzle. Some colleges charge application fees to help pay for reading your college application and making admission decisions. And, ironically, some financial aid services like the CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile charge you to apply. So while you may want to apply to 20 schools, keep in mind that there will be a cost. 

Application costs

College applications can range from anywhere between $40 to $90, though the average application fee is $60. Luckily, not all schools charge application fees, or may offer fee waiver programs (we’ll talk about these a bit later).

Additional costs

There are some additional costs for taking the SAT and ACT, sending in your SAT and ACT score reports, and submitting your CSS profile to the schools you’re applying to. 

  • The SAT costs $49.50 (no essay) or $64.50 (with essay). There’s an additional $30 fee if you registered late. 
  • The ACT costs $52.00 (no writing) or $68.00 (with optional writing test). There’s an additional $29.50 fee if you registered late. 
  • It costs $12 for each school you send your SAT score report to, and $13 for each school you send your ACT score report to.
  • The CSS Profile costs $25 to fill out and send to one school. There’s a $16 charge for each additional school you send yourCSS Profile to.

Fee waivers

Those costs can be a little scary, and can add up pretty quickly. Luckily, there are several ways you can avoid the fees for the SAT, ACT, and college applications.

  • College Board offers fee waivers for students taking the SAT or ACT and when sending in score reports.
  • The Common App offers fee waivers when applying to schools.
  • Some colleges also offer their own fee waiver programs, which you may have to apply for separately. 

SAT waivers

You can avoid the SAT costs if: 

  • You’re enrolled in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
  • Your family’s income is within the Income Eligibility Guidelines.
  • You’re enrolled in a federal, state, or local program for low-income families (e.g., Federal TRIO programs such as Upward Bound).
  • Your family receives public assistance.
  • You live in federally subsidized public housing or a foster home, or are homeless.
  • You’re a ward of the state, or an orphan.

You can use your SAT fee waiver as many times as you want. 

ACT waivers

To get an ACT fee waiver, you have to be a junior or senior, take your test in the US or a US territory, and meet one of the same standards set for the SAT (except for students who are orphans or wards of the state). Your fee waiver can only be used to send your score profile to a maximum of 20 schools. 

CSS Profile waivers

You can get a CSS Profile fee waiver if: 

  • You received a SAT fee waiver
  • Your family’s expected income is $45,000 or less, or
  • You’re an orphan or ward of the state under the age of 24.

Other options

If you don’t qualify for any of these fee waivers, there are still plenty of options. Try some of the following: 

  • Apply to diversity and outreach programs at colleges
  • Email your admission representatives at colleges explaining your financial circumstances
  • Just ask for one! Colleges might give you one if you show demonstrated interest in the school.

Understanding FAFSA and Financial Aid

Wiener Douyon, CollegeFindMe Intern

What is FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA, is the certified report of your family’s financial standings. Each college applicant receives their FAFSA after submitting documents such as W2 forms and recent tax returns. FAFSA is the financial side of the college application process, and for many, it can be the most important. So let’s dive in!


FAFSA allows U.S college applicants to be eligible with different types of financial aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study, federal loans, and private loans. We’ll help you understand these categories below.


  • No repayment required
  • Offered by the federal and state government, along with some institutions
  • May be merit-based, need-based or student-specific*
  • Can be highly competitive
  • The most common grant is the Pell Grant

*Many student-specific grants are for minorities, women, and students with disabilities.


  • No repayment required
  • Offered by individual institutions and private organizations
  • Awarded based on a number of factors, such as academic performance, athletic ability, religious affiliation, and race, among others
  • Most require an essay or some sort of task to be completed, such as a video

Work Study Program

  • Earn money that helps you pay for school through work
  • Schools provide students with federally funded jobs on campus or at other approved locations
  • Libraries, campus centers, administrative offices, dining halls, and residence halls tend to employ work study students
  • The positions available and the pay offered to vary widely depending on the school

Federal Loans

There are two types of federal loans that the government offers to applicants: subsidized and unsubsidized.

  • Subsidized Loans– Available for students who have demonstrated financial need. Terms are a bit better than unsubsidized student loans, since the government pays the interest while the student is in college (and 6 months after graduation)
  • Unsubsidized Loans– Available to all students regardless of need. Students are responsible for repaying interest during all periods.

Private Loans

  • Granted by private banks
  • Help to bridge the gap between the cost of your education and the amount of financial aid you receive from the government (loans, grants, work-study).
  • Eligibility for private loans often depends on your credit score
  • Tend to have higher interest rates than federal loans

Loans, specifically private loans, are the causes of extreme student debt for many adults today. When applying for financial aid, be thorough in your research before signing up for loans, and look for as many scholarships and grants as possible, since you don’t need to pay them back. You can check out some great scholarships offered by CollegeFindMe and our partners here. 

Preparing for FAFSA

This is the dawn of one of your biggest financial moves that you will take in your lifetime. Similar to mortgages and car loans, there are a lot of aspects that students need to keep in mind before making any decisions. At the moment, the best way to prepare is to gather all the resources and forms needed to fill out your FAFSA. That way, you can fill out right when the finance department opens (October 1st) and receive your package earlier than most.

Remember: While it’s important to reach for the stars, don’t burden yourself with debt if you can avoid it. There are many colleges that are more affordable and fitting to your needs than top-tier institutions that charge two or three times more than other colleges. What’s really important is your work ethic and your ability to network within any college you go to. You are amazing, so don’t think that you need to go into an insurmountable debt in order to be successful. You’re destined to be successful no matter the college you go to!