A representation of the sad state of many college student bank accounts.
Image from my personal library.

Every day, newspapers and media report the increasing cost of college tuition. What students don’t realize is that the supplementary costs of attending higher education also add a considerable financial burden.  Wait, but don’t most universities include those expenses in their estimated Cost of Attendance? ‘Estimated’ is the key word. In fact, I’ve found these expenses expenses are often greater, which is especially bad news for students on financial aid. These hidden fees are what often motivate students on financial aid and scholarships to have to work to get themselves through college. In general, all students suffer from these unforeseen costs, so let’s lift the veil on three hidden fees that most financial aid officers don’t tell you about:

1. Health Center Fees and Health Insurance

For universities, the health of their students – or more like appearing to have healthy students – is a major factor of their reputations. Thus, most universities have a Health Center on campus, which is supposed to be accessible and free for students. However, there’s a mandatory yearly fee for this service factored directly into the university bill, usually a few hundred dollars. It doesn’t sound like too much and it’s most likely covered by scholarship. However, there’s a second factor to many universities’ concern for student’s health, and that’s mandatory health care. For students who already have health care under their parents, that shouldn’t be a problem. But for students who don’t have health care or who have Medicaid, the school-provided option adds a big burden to their financial situation. Additionally, students who do have health care that doesn’t match the university’s “standards” must also purchase the expensive school-sanctioned plan. Unfortunately, the students who are forced to pay this hidden fee probably didn’t have the money to pay for health care in the first place.

2. Activities Fees and Dues

Most universities partly fund clubs and activities through activity fees that come directly from student payment. This is an automatic process, usually amounting to a hundred or two hundred dollars. Students may or may not be aware of these fees, but what most are unaware of is that for most universities there is a form to withdraw contributions to activities and get the money back. While it’s important to help fund activities, there are students for whom that extra money could help pay for books or other important personal expenses.

3. Price of Dorm Life and Activities


Going out with friends is a luxury some students can’t afford.
Image from my personal library.

Dorm life can be wonderful. Friendships are forged, but sometimes that comes at a price. Most dorms have a staff of RAs that plan fun bonding events for the community: ski trips, dorm merchandise, or barbecues. Depending on the dorm funds, activities are  sometimes subsidized and sometimes not that much. Even with the subsidy, lower income students might find difficulty taking part of dorm life due to these unexpected expenses. In my experience, the dorm staff always make sure to mention that money shouldn’t be an impediment and that financial aid is always available. This might not always be the case and when it is, there are students out there who feel uncomfortable or ashamed to talk to their RAs about their finances.  Additionally, sometimes the dorm may go out informally to dinner and low income students can find themselves excluded from those activities.

By knowing about these hidden fees in advance, prospective college students can paint a more accurate picture of their financial situations and plan ahead. Life is filled with unexpected expenditures, but it doesn’t have to be these.

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the author

Andrea Villa is a freshman at Stanford University, hoping to major in Comparative Literature or Art History, if her rogue interest in Astronomy doesn’t get in the way. Born in Bogota, Colombia but raised in Miami, Andrea’s upbringing has consisted of multicultural blend of Latin American influences. A strong believer in the power of hard work and merit, she maintains that financial difficulties do not have to be obstacles to success. As a Gates and Questbridge scholar, Andrea aims to spread awareness about these and other programs that lend a helping hand to low income students. Her life goals include publishing a novel and travelling everywhere. She is an avid reader of fiction, fantasy, historical nonfiction, and anything else that seems interesting. Andrea loves languages; she is fluent in English and Spanish and has studied French, German, and Japanese in the past. When not working or reading or studying, Andrea can be found restlessly looking for something to do.

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