It’s no secret — college costs a serious chunk of change. But tuition isn’t the only cost students (and their families) need to worry about.
Despite years of high school training for college, there are tons of surprises that no one prepares you for. These situations go beyond the realm of education and include costs that may not be covered by your tuition or scholarship.
For many, this can be terrifying. But don’t be afraid — you’re not alone. We’ve interviewed a variety of students who had those kinds of financial surprises to see how they figured everything out.
Paying for an internship
Haley, a former USC student, shares her most unexpected financial surprise — paying out of pocket for an internship.
Many degrees require students to complete an internship for credit in order to graduate, while other workplaces will only hire students who have intern experience. And unfortunately, many internships are unpaid or pay close to minimum wage.
This can be a nightmare for students who already need to work to pay for college.
For paid interns, the monthly income can barely be enough to pay for classes, housing, transportation, relocation, food, and other necessities. And although legally unpaid interns are repaid in the form of college credit, the cost of the credit can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
How did Haley survive? First, she prioritized eliminating unnecessary expenditures and learning basic budgeting strategies.
“I had to re-budget,” she says. “I lost a lot of things – including my morning Starbucks! But like any job, I stayed afloat by being on top of my bills and costs of living.”
Another great tactic? Dipping into savings. She had the forethought to start a savings account for college while in high school with her part-time job earnings. It kept her head above water through her internship.
“I took advantage of living at home to save money.” Haley explains. “I didn’t have to pay for rent yet, so all of that money went straight into savings.”
Of course, having money available wasn’t the only thing that kept her sane. Haley also says she adjusted her mindset when she thought about why she was making the sacrifice. She reminded herself that her internship would pay off in the long run, because it would her build her experience and her work ethic.
Having to unexpectedly buy a car
Soon after transferring to ASU, Lexi discovered that living near or on-campus is was financially out of the question. Lexi needed to spend her first two years of school living a city far from her campus and working full time.
This meant that a car was a must.
To make this work, she chose the cheapest car insurance she could afford, but it didn’t cover damages in accidents. After getting into a car accident, she was forced to buy another car.
Buying a new car was out of the question. Instead, she settled on buying a used RAV4 — a comfortable, fuel-efficient SUV — which allowed her to travel the large distance from her home to the campus and work every day.
“I did my research on all of my options, and buying the right car was the answer I needed,” she says.
Paying for parking
Parking can be hard to find on many college campuses. And some college towns take advantage of the parking shortage by building pricey paid parking lots all around the campus.
Colleges usually offer parking options and passes that can added to the price of tuition. But these passes are often sold out within an hour of going on sale. This forces students to find cheaper alternatives — like parking far from campus or long bus rides.
Cami, another student from ASU, chose the cheaper but further route. “All of the parking lots advertised an app called Parkmobile,” she says, “The app helped me find the cheapest school and city parking lots. I also was turned on to Spothero by a classmate. It’s a third party site that found park a similar app that helped me find even more lots.”
AirGarage is another great plan – Similar to AirBnb, this allows homeowners near college areas to rent parking spots within their driveways for as little as $30 a month!
Getting a car booted (multiple times)
Brennan, a community college student, says his most surprising college expense was paying for parking tickets.
While parking in a public parking spot owned by the city, Brennan frequently attended a class that was longer than the amount he could afford on the meter. Diligent meter maids were quick to give him tickets, which eventually resulted in the booting of his car.
While you may be internally screaming “just stop parking there,” it isn’t as easy to avoid as many would think, especially if the parking lots that are available are a full day’s hike from the campus.
Brennan went to court to plead his case with the judge. In the end, he paid big time. He ended up having to pay for parking tickets, removal fees, court fines, and license reinstatement fees.
And after his first year, he invested in a bike and rode to class.
“Respect the rules!”
Dealing with rental disasters
Living off campus can be impossible without a roommate. Many students end up with roommate they may not know very well. Vanessa from UAF details how her roommate turned into a nightmare, and quickly became her most surprising expense in college.
The roommate had come highly recommended, but soon after moving in she lost her job and began to skip her chores at the apartment. And then one night, she accidentally broke a window.
Since their apartment complex did not require them to take out renter’s insurance, the cost of the damages was charged to the two roommates. And unfortunately for Vanessa, she was the only one with the money to get it fixed.
How did she handle the situation?
“I sat down with my roommate and I explained repercussions of her actions.” Vanessa says. “She hadn’t dealt with much responsibility before, and I had to explain that it was time to be realists and time to be adults.”
The roommate was mortified, and agreed to find another job to pay Vanessa back. But this does have a happy ending — because of their honest encounter, they’ve been best friends ever since.
Paying for textbooks and supplies
In addition to tuition, students are expected to pay for textbooks and required supplies, like clickers and science equipment. These items can run pretty pricey, and many feel cheated — particularly if they don’t have a scholarship to cover for textbooks.
Luckily, Sam from UCLA shares her secret to figuring out this financial surprise.
“Always research classes and their required textbook and materials before signing up for the class,” she suggests.
Many classes offer a syllabus and textbook lists before the semester begins. This is the perfect opportunity to look for textbooks in alternative stores, such as Amazon, Chegg, and local bookstores. Some classes may require textbooks that can be found free to the public in PDF or ebook format online.
And, of course, it’s always a good idea to rent used books if possible, not buy.
Going to college is hard enough without worrying about financial surprises.
Unfortunately, they may be hard to avoid. But with a clear head and a little advice from other students who’ve been there, solutions to these sticky situations can be found in a snap.