The high cost of college fees
You think college tuition costs are high? Many schools
have come up with some new ways to empty your wallet and fill their
coffers -- by imposing university fees.
Drop a course a day late, register 10 minutes after
the deadline or park in the wrong place on campus and you could
be hit with hefty fines that can add hundreds, and sometimes thousands,
to your annual bill.
Many students are totally unaware of the rules, deadlines
and policies that trigger the fees.
Sometimes, fee notification comes via e-mail that
goes awry in an ancient college system or snail mail that ends up
at a summer address. Within weeks, a little fee snowballs into a
"It's hard to tell a freshman that you need to
pay attention to these things," says Gary Carpenter, executive
director of the National Institute of Certified College Planners.
"But you need to make sure you're on top of these fees. It's
a profit center for them."
Carpenter says schools use fees to avoid raising tuition.
Padding from fees can keep blanket tuition hikes down, and so the
careless subsidize the careful.
If you're starting school, or if your kid is, get
a copy of the university calendar and read that thing like it contains
the secret to eternal health.
Read your bill super carefully
One way to avoid major fees is to check your university
bill for errors, says Carpenter.
"When you get to school, the first thing you
do is go to the financial aid office and make sure your aid is right,"
Every year, he sees families paying $400 to $500 for health insurance
that they already have through an employer.
"If the family doesn't submit proof of insurance,
there's a double fee. Sometimes families have so much sticker shock
over the total price tag, they don't even notice the $400."
Apart from a financial-aid error, the priciest mistake
you can make at most schools is registering too late, or forgetting
to choose your classes until the semester actually starts.
In addition to missing out on the courses you like,
you can be slammed with fees that range from a slap on the hand
to several hundred dollars.
The University of Chicago bills a $250 "continuous
registration penalty fee" for students who haven't paid five
weeks into the semester. Its other late fees range from $50 to $200.
At Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government,
you will be billed $25 per day for "late submission of forms
and documents," according to the school registrar's site.
And if you don't drop a class in time, you can be
billed for the entire course. At the University of Iowa, just a
week of delay can mean a bill of several thousand dollars -- for
a course you didn't stay in.
The only way out is to be vigilant about deadlines.
Then, double-check your registration records and university bill
against each other and make sure they match.
Protest any financial errors
If you get hit with fees that are not your fault,
"The computers here botched one of my registrations
last year for winter quarter. For some reason they had no record
of it," says John Curry, a doctoral candidate in Middle Eastern
history at Ohio State.
"I did not find out until four weeks into the
quarter that I was not registered," Curry says, "and only
because I received no paycheck or insurance coverage for one of
my dental claims.
"Needless to say, my wife and I were in horrible
shape for the rest of the
quarter, and to boot, the university tried to charge me $800 for
a late registration."
Curry tried protesting, but got nowhere at first.
"Only after multiple appeals to the dean and
my advisers did I finally have this exorbitant sum refunded to me
-- two months later."
Curry says that the larger context of these fees is
that they can be the last straw for students struggling to get through