by Kimberly Palmer

Trials and Tribulations of a College Education in the 21st Century |

Forget the meal plan and new computer -- those costs pale in comparison with the unexpected expenses that add up each month, from vitamins to stave off exam-season colds to formal wear for the next big Saturday night soiree.

Here are 13 often-overlooked items that you might want to budget for, along with their estimated costs:

Storage containers.

Not only do students haul all of their worldly possessions to and from school each year, but their dorm rooms often have skimpy dressers and closets. Plastic drawers that stack or slide under beds can mean the difference between total chaos and a reasonably organized wardrobe. Hooks, coat racks, and laundry baskets also help. ($250, the Container Store)

Gym membership.

Many colleges and universities include the cost of gym membership in tuition, but some schools, such as Michigan State and Penn, charge for gym access. Even at other schools, students usually pay extra for yoga, dance, and exercise classes that help fight off the "freshman 15." ($80 per semester, Michigan State)

Parking and car registration fees.

As more students look at schools closer to home, a growing number will also be driving to campus, both for the semester and for the day. Car registration fees can cost a couple of hundred dollars per semester; street parking, gas, maintenance, and insurance can add even more. ($247 per semester for students who live on campus and $128 for commuters, University of Maryland)

The latest iPod incarnation.

Students use iPods while they walk to class, study in a crowded library, and fall asleep in noisy dorm rooms. Whether you spring for the flashy iPod Touch or simpler Shuffle, you'll probably find a way to get those white buds in your ears. ($229, iPod Touch)

School pride gear.

Cheering for the UCLA Bruins, Kansas Jayhawks, or Ohio Bobcats often requires T-shirts, banners, and other gear emblazoned with the school mascot. ($80, Jayhawk hat and matching pullover jacket)

Formal wear.

Typical Saturday night going-out clothes vary by region, but almost all schools host a handful of formal occasions each year, ranging from casino nights to Greek events to old-fashioned dances. With party dresses and suits going for upwards of $100, that's no cheap date night. ($180, silk chiffon Juliet dress from J. Crew)

Sleeping gear.

Getting a full night's rest in a dorm with a roommate isn't always easy, but with an eye mask and ear plugs, it becomes a little more manageable. ($17.70, Magellan's Lights Out Sleep Mask and ear plugs)

Flu-fighting vitamins.

Close living quarters combined with all-nighters, a poor diet, and stress can lead to lingering coughs and runny noses. A daily vitamin can boost the body's immune system and help students get all the nutrients they may be missing at the dining hall. ($13.99 for 180 Centrum Complete Multivitamin Tablets)


In case the vitamins don't stave off every infection, students will need to head to the pharmacy. And while student health centers often see students for little or no charge (after the mandatory annual fees), over-the-counter treatments can add up. ($30, cold medicine tablets, cough suppressant, and cough drops)

Paper costs.

Sure, having all your papers on your laptop is saving trees. But professors often ask students to copy hundreds of pages of on-reserve materials, where the charge can range from 5 to 15 cents per page. ($24 for 300 pages at Arizona State libraries)

Food storage.

Meal plans usually fail to sate students' every hunger, which is why many decide to rent a small fridge each semester. That way, they can satisfy late-night cravings without ordering pizza. ($140 per year, refrigerator plus microwave rental at William & Mary through QPS Marketing)

Extra food.

To fill that fridge and fund the occasional Friday night burrito with friends, students often report needing money for extras to round out their campus meal plans. ($100 per month, based on student reports)


With long vacations and class schedules that leave room for three- (or four-) day weekends, students often squeeze in as much travel as possible before entering the working world. And sometimes you just need to get away. ($515, starting student price quoted this summer for a round-trip ticket to Australia from STA Travel)

Available at

Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges---And Find Themselves

Paying for College without Going Broke, 2009 Edition (College Admissions Guides)

The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price

The Best 371 Colleges, 2010 Edition (College Admissions Guides)


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