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10 Hidden Costs that Add Up on Your Financial Award 

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This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

Ahh, hidden fees.

You’d expect a seedy car salesman to say, “By the way, we charge to add leather polish to your new leather seats.”

And cell phone and internet bills? They always seem to add another line item there that you have no idea what it means.

Unfortunately, hidden fees even show up on your financial aid award, which is the document that outlines how much aid you will receive—and how much you’ll have to spend out of pocket—to attend a college or university.

Hidden Costs That Might Be on Your Financial Aid Award

What hidden costs might you see on your financial aid award letter? 

1: Orientation Fees

You may have to pay orientation fees when you register for classes or when you get your first bill. Depending on the school, the cost for this type of fee ranges from as little as $50 to more than $300.

2: Student Activity Fees 

Student activity fees cover the costs of bringing entertainment to campus.

For example, at The Ohio State University, student activity fees total $40 per semester. Note that many colleges and universities charge fraternity and sorority fees, intramural sports fees and more.

3: Health Fees

You may pay a mandatory student health fee, which pays for preventive care for the student community and medical and mental health direct services.

For example, the University of Southern California charges $100 per semester fee provides access to primary care, COVID-19 testing, counseling outreach and prevention workshops and more through the USC Student Health Centers

4: Technology Fees

Technology fees vary from school to school but typically pay for acquiring, installing and maintaining up-to-date and emerging technologies, hardware, software, databases, and other capital equipment for student learning. The technology fee varies from college to college.

5: Lab Costs

For science majors, lab fees average about $50 per class. The cost can really add up if students take a full schedule of science classes.

If you take six lab classes a year, that’s $300 a year, or $1,200 over the course of four years.

6: Online Course Fees 

You may also pay an online course fee to pay for the learning management system at a college or university and other kinds of computer setup for instructors. 

7: Club Fees

Club fees for club sports that may include lots of equipment and field rental amounts can run as much as $2,500 per year, according to the Texas A&M Department of Recreational Sports.

8: Athletic Fees

Each student might pay athletic fees to finance the school’s sports teams. For example, at James Madison University, a student found out that she was paying for athletic team fees—over $2,000. This wasn’t for using the gym or clubs and activities; it funded the costs of athletic teams.

It’s not typical of all universities, but it does illustrate how unusual (and sometimes egregious) some of the charges may be. 

9: Library Fees

Now, these fees might come later, but students, staff, faculty and courtesy borrowers often get charged fines for overdue books. At the University of Missouri, students get charged $2 per day per book. At the university, further delay results in an invoice for the cost of replacement at an additional $175 per item.

10: Transcript and Graduation Fees

Other fees you’ll pay later include transcripts and graduation fees.

Transcript copies typically run about $10 per copy. Shipping fees, depending on their urgency and final destination, can run up to $55 for expedited shipping internationally.

A student may need to pay a commencement fee or graduation fee to participate in the school’s ceremony. This can range from approximately $50 to $110.

How You Can Reduce the Burden of Hidden Fees

So, knowing all these extra fees, can you make them disappear? Perhaps.

Dissect your financial aid award. 

First, find out where the hidden fees lie.

If you can’t find them on your financial aid award, get in touch with the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend and ask about the extra fees you’ll pay.

Find out what they are and ask the financial aid office for a list of these fees. (Maybe you can opt out of some of them.)

Know that most of these fees roll up into the financial aid award and some aren’t brought out .

Talk to the financial aid office about removing certain fees.

Do you see some fees on your financial aid award that won’t apply to you?

For example, if you see a charge for orientation fees and you won’t attend an in-person orientation, ask whether the university or college can waive that fee. 

However, do prepare yourself for the response that the financial aid office cannot waive the fee.  

Determine how you’ll handle these fees. 

If you find out you must pay the fees (especially the ones that crop up later on) have a plan for how you’ll pay for them.

For example, if you join the rugby club and later find out that it has an organization fee to join, how will you pay for it? Will you have an off-campus job that can help you cover some of these extra costs? Can you join a lower-cost sorority or fraternity or opt to not join one at all? (You can get involved in so many other ways!)

You may also want to take out federal or private loans to cover the full costs of college (and by default, those fees!).

Talk with family who might help. 

Will family members help you pay for college? The fees might take care of themselves if that’s the case! In other words, family members might help pay for the out-of-pocket costs, which includes the leftover portion that scholarships and grants don’t cover.

Talk to your family members about whether they might want to help you pay for college.

Prepare Yourself for Fees

Fees underpin everything and can include online course fees, club fees, athletic fees and more.

Just don’t forget that other fees might pop up later on, which won’t roll into the financial aid award. Those come in the form of library fines, academic transcript fees and even graduation fees.

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Author: Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her essential timeline and checklist for the college search!