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Surprise! College costs even more

Back to School » Surprise! College costs even more

You've calculated your college savings, loans and grant money, and have crunched the numbers to develop a workable budget. Now, how much was set aside for the occasional pizza?

"If a college student eats one pizza a week (off-campus), he'll have spent $2,000 on pizza by the time he graduates from a four-year program," says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of, a resource for student financial aid.

That two grand probably wasn't accounted for when you were calculating your typical college costs. Most families plan their college expenses based on figures provided by the colleges and universities themselves, which are very loose estimates on a degree's cost and essentials such as transportation and textbooks.

"The College Board reports that in 2010-2011, students could expect to spend an average of $1,137 on textbooks and supplies. A new financial accounting textbook can cost $150 to $200," says Carole Walters of Flat World Knowledge, a publisher of free and open textbooks.

Graham Haskin, who graduated from Emerson College in Boston, says he was dismayed by the cost of textbooks, but the really big college expense came from using public transportation. "I took the T (subway) everywhere. The cost of the monthly pass or the cost of the per-trip rate was a surprise," Haskin says.

The website for the University of North Carolina at Wilmington estimates student transportation costs at $1,452 per year, whether a student lives on campus or commutes. Since some students commute to their campuses from as far away as 50 miles, it's good to keep in mind that individual college expenses will vary.

So that's where your money goes

Because not everyone can be like Rodney Dangerfield's rags-to-riches character, Thornton Melon, in "Back to School," students have to rely on traditional financial planning methods. This involves anticipating rising college costs. However, few can forecast the rates at which today's gas and grocery prices rise.

According to a College Board study, basic public college tuition alone has increased, "from 2000-01 to 2010-11 rang(ing) from 79 percent in the Middle States region to 161 percent in the West before adjusting for inflation." Add in unplanned college expenses, and many who think they're prepared are in for wallet shock.

"The dorm and dining hall provide the basics, but students will need everything from laundry money to shaving cream and probably cell service," says Greg Karp, author of several books on personal finance. Students agree and, although some college costs are predictable, others sneak up on them.

Luke Mayberry, a drummer and music major at East Carolina University, in Greenville, N.C., says carrying a major like his costs extra bucks. "I was definitely surprised by how much money I was spending on sheet music and mallets/drumsticks outside of the required materials list I'd been given during the summer."

Mayberry says he spent about $500 extra on equipment and sheet music at the beginning of his first semester. And music majors aren't the only ones: Art and graphic design majors, for example, must often purchase expensive software as well as materials.

Kantrowitz adds that in some states, such as Florida, universities tack on an additional charge once a major is declared. "Those fees aren't necessarily planned for," he says.


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