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Unexpected College Costs and What Students Can do to Prepare / By: Malaika Perkins


There is no question that the financial strain of college has increased over the years. Many students and their families struggle to pay for tuition and often have to choose between education or financial stability. In addition to tuition, there are many costs that students don’t anticipate that pose a huge strain on students' budgets for the year. This issue is especially prevalent amongst first-generation and/or low-income college students.

Almost 80% of college students surveyed in 2019 report that they encountered an unexpected, indirect cost (Carrns, 2020). These costs can be things like utilities, sorority dues, medical expenses, etc. When speaking to Casey Krause, a college counselor “Those indirect costs; travel, books, and supplies can be an additional 3-4k a year”. These expenses, though not expressed traditionally in tuition, are an integral part of attending school. These costs on top of tuition induce financial insecurity for college students. This can be extremely daunting for young adults to navigate, so much so that it is the leading cause of students dropping out. When asked why they dropped out, 42% of college dropouts cited financial reasons (UPCEA, 2021).

In addition to living expenses, there are also quality of life expenses. While the main goal of attending college is to gain an education, there are also key experiences that are part of college and essential to enjoying your time in university such as networking and community building. Guadalupe “Lupe” Mota, a USC Graduate, spoke about their experience in college as a low-income and first-gen student “there’s a lot of pressure to fit into whatever group you are in… added social pressures led me into spending more money. If I wanted to have the experience my peers were having I had to find money… having to do that was hard”.

So what can you do to help prepare for these costs? My recommendation as a current college student is to opt out of any additional, optional or non-essential fees if possible. I also recommend that you research available grants and scholarships that may be able to help you buy things like technology and textbooks. Lastly, I recommend that you take advantage of all student discounts which range from technology to food and allow you to save where possible.


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