College costs may be a frequent topic for the parent-student team to address but even the most thorough estimates can be off by thousands. That’s because there are huge hidden costs not mentioned by the colleges and not covered by financial aid. The good news is families can form a plan to reduce these extra expenses before they pop up unexpectedly.
The government and colleges have agreed on a Cost of Attendance (COA) formula that is posted on school websites and used to measure family need against college costs to determine financial aid. The expenses that make up COA include tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation and personal expenses.
Unfortunately, COA doesn’t tell the whole story. There are hidden costs. Parents of College and college-bound Students (POCS) can call this more realistic accounting the POCS COA. It includes COA, start-up costs, program expenses, parent travel expenses and borrowing costs.
POCS COA includes start-up costs like setting up a dorm room, program expenses for those with lab fees, more costly textbooks and/or special equipment, parent costs because their costs such as for meals, lodging, gas, plane tickets are never considered and neither are student and parent borrowing costs including interest and fees.
When students get to campus there are other hidden expenses. Basic living expenses is a surprise for many. Food for example can be a big one even for those with costly meal plans. Student schedules and their location when they get hungry may make it difficult to eat at the cafeteria. Grabbing a quick bite at a convenient but pricey eatery can solve the problem but impact the budget.
Clean clothes can be obtained for a price too with pay as you launder machines. From toiletries and cleaning supplies to wardrobe additions that match the college’s climate and school spirit, extra costs sneak in.
Campus transportation is another issue. For those allowed to bring cars, there are often steep parking fees and the upkeep costs for additional use doing favors for auto-less friends. Many students opt to purchase bicycles that may also require locks and safety equipment. Off campus, local buses or trains require varying fares that help get students to internships, jobs, events and stores.
Student social life may trigger a host of unexpected expenditures. Clubs and sports may require equipment and offer trips and other costly experiences. Fraternities and sororities have hefty dues and run functions that may require more pecuniary contributions from members. Then there are one-time entertainment events like concerts and periodic spending for dating.
Parents incur some other extra costs too like sending care packages. They may elect to continue medical insurance coverage for their adult child on their plans. Speaking of insurance, students may need some to cover their possessions in their dorm room or apartment. When students study abroad, families may choose to turn it into a family vacation, especially if they have extended family or friends nearby.
Families can use the parent/student team to lower costs with a frank conversation about needs and expectations. A cost/benefit analysis can follow. Identify, prioritize and then set agreed upon financial limits. Have regular discussions to update as student needs change.
Parents and students can research sales and discount opportunities offered by many businesses on and off campus. If students can juggle studies with work, it may make sense for them to contribute via offered federal work/study programs, paid internships and jobs. A percentage of wages from summer jobs can also be applied to college expenses.
Colleges and clubs may offer freebies like food, T-shirts, tickets and other items in addition to contests with prizes. It is up to students to find out where and when to partake. They may end up with a brand new electronic device or a trip!
The biggest way to keep costs down is to graduate on time. Any extra semesters can add thousands to college costs. Students should meet with advisors regularly to ensure they will earn the proper credits, have the right prerequisites, and verify they are on track.
Get more information about what to expect during the college process by subscribing via the subscribe button to receive more college prep articles and visiting pocsmom.com. Please share your views in the comments section about how to shrink those hidden college costs.