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.