Starting college: The buck goes on
Parents find tuition is the beginning of the billing
CAPITAL REGION Parents sending a child off to college for the first time are in the process of saying sad goodbyes, not only to their young adult, but also to a whole bunch of money.
Tuition’s a given — the cost for that, along with room and board, are spelled out clearly in the statement sent from the school. But then there are all sorts of other costs that those new to the higher-education scene might not have considered, ranging from extra-long twin-size bed sheets to parking fees.
Colleen Breault of Glenville just got back from dropping off her son, Kyle Wolfe, at Queens University of Charlotte, N.C.
The endeavor involved 1,400 miles of travel, two cars, and a load of dorm-room essentials, including everything from a wireless keyboard to cough drops.
Breault estimated that it cost between $500 and $600 to outfit her son for his first year of school, not counting his books or the thumbtacks they forgot to buy.
“I guess I knew that there would be some expenses to get stuff for the room. I had no idea it would be so much,” she said. “And then the travel. I didn’t really plan for it. I knew we had to get him down there and back and he wouldn’t be able to come home a lot, but it was more expensive than I thought.”
SUNY Cobleskill recommends that incoming students set aside $3,500 for books, supplies, transportation and miscellaneous expenses, according to Joel Smith, vice president for college relations.
Some of those miscellaneous expenses include lab or course fees, which, for certain courses, range from $20 to $350; a student activity fee of $95 per semester for full-time students; and a $65 orientation fee.
Lisa Christenson of Charlton, who is sending her daughter, Sophie Povirk, off to the University of Miami, got a surprise when she looked at the bill from her daughter’s college.
“We were automatically charged $2,000 for health insurance. You can waive it, but if you don’t check carefully, then you don’t know it’s there,” Christenson said, noting that she was able to waive the fee, since Sophie is covered under the family’s health insurance policy.
Sophie’s possessions — five boxes of them, plus a bike — were shipped down to school. The cost for that was a more pleasant surprise — just $250.
“It was much less than I thought it was going to be,” Christenson said.
She saved on shipping costs by purchasing some supplies through Bed, Bath and Beyond, which offers the option to pick up purchases at a store near the college.
Christenson was able to use funds from Sophie’s 529 college savings account to buy her books and some supplies. The purchases felt less painful since the money was saved up over time, she said.
Funds from a 529 account can also be used to purchase a computer if one is required by the college or for a particular class, noted Dean Skarlis, president of The College Advisor of New York, based in Albany.
Expensive laptops and smart phones are typically part of a student’s packing list, but often overlooked is the cost of insurance to protect those items from loss, damage and theft.
A rider to cover valuables can often be added to a homeowner’s insurance policy for a modest sum. If that’s not an option, most universities offer some type of renter’s insurance that may be purchased through a third party, according to Holly Barker-Flynn, director of new student programs at the University at Albany.
The renter’s insurance plan offered at UAlbany costs $70 per year for $2,000 worth of coverage, with a $50 deductible. For $4,000 of coverage, it’s $100 a year, with the same deductible. Higher deductibles and coverage amounts are also available.
Leisure, social costs
The college expenses most often underestimated are the ones associated socializing, noted Barker-Flynn. Those might include trips to visit friends at other colleges, date nights or must-have shoes from the mall.
Food is another frequently unanticipated expense, she said. The all-inclusive college meal plan doesn’t cover student favorites like coffee at Starbuck’s or pizza delivered to the dorm.
Spending habits don’t change much once kids get to college, said Barker-Flynn.
“If they’re the ones who are always coming to you and saying, ‘I need $20 to go to the movies’ or ‘I want to go shopping’ and you’re an open pocketbook, then they’re going to kind of continue that trend throughout college,” she said.
Frugal budgeters will likely continue to manage their money wisely, she added.
Skarlis said he believes the majority of college spending money should be generated by the student.
Although it’s too late to get a summer job this year, an on-campus job could help cover unanticipated costs, he suggested.