15 Sneaky Hidden Fees Colleges Are Charging Students and Their Parents

Forget tuition. The real reason college is so expensive these days might be the fees. With students and parents focused on tuition, colleges have piled on fees for everything from recreational service to building repair. Confused undergrads might not realize they’re on the hook for these fees — which make up 20% of the total cost of attendance at public universities — until it’s too late.
Fees often start the moment you set foot on campus (see: new student orientation fees) and might not even end with graduation. (Want a copy of your transcript? Fork over some cash.) Some students in expensive majors get hit with hundreds of dollars in lab costs and other fees every year. Even if college fees fund worthy services, some schools hear complaints and roll fees into tuition costs. Here are 15 sneaky fees that college students might not realize they have to pay.

1. The campus spirit fee

students cheering
Some schools make you pay for spirit. | Patrick Smith/Stringer/Getty

Not feeling the campus spirit? It doesn’t matter at the University of California, Irvine, where all students are charged a campus spirit fee. The money goes to support athletics and campus spirit programs. It comes on top of fees for the rec center, events center, and student center, as well as a fee for club sports.
Next: The cost of campus transit

2. The bus and bike fees

female college student
Even if you plan on using your own two feet, you’ll pay the fee. | iStock.com/Png-Studio

Students at the University of Colorado, Boulder pay $85 a year for a bus and bike fee. Such fees are pretty common at U.S. colleges and universities. Comb through detailed fee lists at most schools, and chances are you’ll see charges for bus passes, campus transportation, or late-night rides home, whether or not you intend to use those services.
Next: Climbing walls and lazy rivers

3. The lazy river fees

money flying out of man's wallet
Those unnecessary things add up. | iStock.com/SIphotography

When it comes to egregious college fees, this is what most people have in mind. At some schools, recreational fees cover the cost of fancy amenities most people expect to find at a resort, not a university campus. When Texas Tech University installed an $8 million lazy river in 2005, student fees went up by $10. At Louisiana State University, students now pay $1,080 more in fees a over four-year college career than they did a few years ago. The money pays for rec facilities, including a climbing wall, rope course, and lazy river.
These fees may seem over the top, but students often approve them personally, noted Inside Higher Ed. Still, that’s little comfort for future enrollees who didn’t get a say in the matter.
Next: Outrageous athletic fees

4. The athletic fees

College World Series
Catching the big game isn’t a requirement for some people. | Peter Aiken/Getty Images

College athletics are a big business, and some students and parents have to foot the bill for facilities they won’t use and games they don’t attend. University of Virginia students, for example, fork over $657 a year in athletic fees. At James Madison University, 30% of the annual $4,628 comprehensive fee goes to athletics — more than $1,300 per student. At Georgia State, students paid over $90 million in mandatory athletic fees over five years, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Players and fans might get behind these fees, but many who don’t care about college sports feel like they’re being gouged.
Next: The cost of career services

5. The career services fee

Students throw their caps in the air ahead of their graduation ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall on July 15, 2014 in London, England. Students of the London College of Fashion, Management and Science and Media and Communication attended their graduation ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall today. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Check out what you’re paying for before graduation. | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Students tempted to skip the pre-graduation visit to career services might want to think again. After all, you’re paying for it either way. At Clemson University, students pay a $4 career services fee every year. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, students pay $43 a year in several career services fees. They might not get their money’s worth, though. Only 1 out of 6 college graduates say their career services office was very helpful, a Gallup poll found.
Next: Fees for events you can’t attend

6. The fee for a concert you might not be able to attend

Girl enjoying the music festival
Paying your fees won’t even guarantee you entry. | iStock.com/m-gucci

On-campus concerts are pretty normal, funded from some sort of student activities fee. For instance, at UCLA, everyone pays $4.20 a year for the annual Bruin Bash, a big party that’s featured performers, including Ty Dolla $ign, Chance the Rapper, and Major Lazer. But don’t assume that the fee guarantees you entry into the show. Students must enter a lottery to get a ticket, and there are typically more entrants than space available.
Next: The hidden cost of an unpaid internship

7. The fee for working for free

graduation cap with "hire me" written on it
Getting that internship on your resume could cost you. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

An internship can help you land a job after graduation (and pay off all those fees you racked up earning a degree). But working for free can cost you. If you hope to receive college credit for your unpaid internship, expect to pay $500 or more, according to Money. Keep in mind, interns must be paid in most situations, even if they’re getting college credit (though some employers try to skirt the rules).
Next: When “free” really isn’t

8. The free HIV testing fee

A “free” health screening might cost you. | iStock.com

Usually, when something is free, that means you don’t have to pay for it. But students at the University of California, Santa Cruz fork over $2.25 every year for a “free/anonymous HIV testing fee.” This charge may be small, but it definitely seems a little sneaky.
Next: The fee to do the thing you’re already paying to do

9. The fee to graduate

hands holding diplomas
You’re paying a lot for that paper. | iStock.com/michaeljung

Congratulations, graduate! Here’s one final bill before you walk across the stage and grab your diploma. Colleges impose all kinds of fees on students who are about to leave campus. At the College of Charleston, the fee is $25 (though you’ll pay double if you miss the deadline). At the University of Nevada, Reno, getting out will cost you $75. Students at the Juilliard School pay $100. Want to participate in commencement ? Chances are you’ll pay for your cap, gown, and tassel, too.
Next: This fee helps keep print media alive

10. The free newspaper fee

man reading newspaper
You pay a price to stay informed. | iStock.com

The University of Illinois seems to have a unique definition of the word “free.” Students at the school’s flagship campus in Urbana-Champaign pay an annual collegiate readership fee, which provides free copies of various newspapers. But you can’t blame greedy administrators for this fee. At some point, students voted to approve this charge.
Next: Drop-out insurance

11. The tuition insurance fee

woman doing homework
You might never use what this fee covers. | iStock.com/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

Parents who shell out big bucks for school might want to protect their investment should their child need to withdraw. Enter tuition refund insurance. Usually, you’d have to seek out this coverage on your own, but at Bard College the school includes the $634 yearly charge on your bill. If you don’t want the coverage, you can request to have the fee waived.
Next: Why paying tuition with plastic will cost you more

12. The credit card fees

credit card
You might be better off writing a check if you can. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Students or parents who try to pay tuition with a credit card might find the bill larger than expected. Colleges tack on an average convenience fee of 2.62% when people pay with plastic, CreditCards.com found. The bursar’s office isn’t the only place where swiping a credit card will cost you. Students rack up an average of $1,016 in fees and interest over their four years in college, NerdWallet found. You can’t blame that expense on ivory tower officials.
Next: Paying for babysitting, even if you don’t have kids

13. The child care fee for people who don’t have kids

kids at a day care center
You might be paying for child care even if you don’t have kids. | Carsten Koall/Getty Images

Students who are parents often struggle to balance caring for their kids with getting a college education. Many colleges provide child care services to ease the burden a bit. But what some students may not know is that they pay for those services, whether or not they have kids. The University of Massachusetts, Amherst and University of Wisconsin charge all students a child care fee. At UMass, students can request to have the fee waived.
Next: Paying for a coat of paint

14. The fee to paint the radio station tower

glass jar full of coins displaying college
Those small fees add up. | iStock.com

Some colleges break down where your various fees go. So students at the University of Minnesota can not only see a $12.67 student media fee to cover the cost of campus publications, TV, and radio, but they can also see in the 2017-18 school year, 70 cents of the fee goes toward painting the university radio station tower.
Next: Special fees for international students

15. The evacuation and repatriation fee

Stressed college student for exam
International students have to pay extra fees. | iStock.com/Tomwang112

International students are often subject to their own unique set of extra fees. At Indiana University of Pennsylvania, foreign students pay extra fees for immigration, placement testing, and a special international student orientation. They’re also on the hook for an “evacuation and repatriation” fee of $85 a year.