The Hidden Costs of College
This past year, Times Magazine and U.S. News and World Report ran articles exposing some of the unspoken costs of attending college (see: The 13 Hidden College Expenses and Financial Surprises for College Parents). While these list provide ample food for thought, they do miss a few other high price ticket items that families should be aware of when budgeting for college. These expenses include:
Study Abroad – One of the hottest trends in American education is the study abroad experience. More and more students are taking advantage of this opportunity, either for a summer, a semester, or an entire year, and the locations are getting increasingly diverse. When students pick a study abroad program, however, there are a couple things they should bear in mind: 1. Do their financial aid packages transfer to cover the basic costs; and 2. How much traveling do the students want to do beyond their host city? In the first case, universities publicize that they accept credits from a variety of programs, but they often fail to disclose the actual financial cost to the students. Be sure to speak with your financial aid officer before making a final decision, so that you are not taking out expensive loans that you will be repaying for more than a decade. In the second case, think about what kind of experience you wish to have. Do you want to have an in-depth cultural experience in which you experience the life and culture of your host city? Do you wish to explore the far reaches of the country you have chosen to study in? Or given the proximity of so many other cultures, especially in Europe, do you wish to explore numerous countries surrounding the one you have selected as your home base? Once you have determined this, budget accordingly. Travel is an essential component of study abroad programs; however, it does come at a price!
Commencement – How much do those caps and gowns cost to rent? And to frame that degree? And to get your parents a hotel room, plane tickets to the event, and dinner out with friends and family? Although graduation is the joyous culmination of every higher education experience, it comes with a hefty price tag. During senior year, plan early so that you’re not spending any more than you have to, and make your hotel reservations a year in advance. You’ll be surprised by how quickly hotel rooms disappear around Commencement!
Spring Break – Many students view spring break as a right of passage, but traveling to popular destinations in Mexico, Florida and the Caribbean does not come cheaply. If a spring break vacation appeals to you, budget about $500-1000 for each year to take advantage of these trips. Otherwise, there are a number of less expensive, and even free, options available if you do some research online!
By thinking in advance about which opportunities you wish to seize, and which others you can do without, you can set a budget that will meet you and your family’s needs.