Hidden Costs of College

June 1, 2021
A post by Tom Nicholas, Senior Associate Director of Admission

As you begin exploring colleges and crafting the list featuring your top universities, a lingering question remains in the minds of many families: how do we afford it? Comparing financial aid and scholarship offers across several universities is often complex, and it can be easy to zero in on tuition, room, and meals as the sole costs of a college education. While these expenses comprise the bulk of college costs and should warrant most of your attention, there are a number of out-of-pocket expenses for which you should be prepared. Spoiler alert – at Richmond, these are costs you won’t have to worry about as much. Individually, the costs may not seem like much, but over the course of four years, they can add up to a hefty balance. At first glance, you may consider Richmond as a slightly larger investment. However, once you account for all the ways in which we cover those smaller, hidden fees, UR may actually be the better financial fit.

Here are some of the most common areas you may find yourself accruing unwanted financial add-ons over the next four years – and, more importantly, how Richmond subsidizes many of these extra costs for our students.

Let’s start with room and board. At Richmond, you’ll never have to worry about buying extra bucks to be able to eat extremely well. The Spider Unlimited Meal Plan, our basic plan assigned to all students living in residence halls, comes with unlimited swipes into the dining hall and $875 dining dollars per semester ($1,750/year). You can use these dining dollars at any of our eight on-campus eateries. For most students, this is more than enough. As you compare meal plans across colleges, make sure to check whether or not the quantity meets your needs.

What about bringing your car to campus? About half of Richmond students do, and though it’s not a necessity (thanks to our shuttle services), it can be a nice convenience. In general, parking fees are notoriously expensive on college campuses – among our most common competitors, the pricing ranges from $260-$1,684/year. However, Richmond’s annual student parking permit is only $140/year. Just two years with a car on campus costs you, on average, $1,944 less at Richmond.

And then there are the add-ons. Take that bane of every college student’s busy schedule: laundry. No, we don’t do your laundry for you. But at $2.00 per load, doing three loads per week, you’re looking at $768 over the course of four years. At Richmond, however, use of your hall’s laundry facilities is included in room and meals, so that additional cost would be $0. That’s approximately 3,000 quarters you’ll save yourself from carting around. I’d tell you to go take your savings and buy yourself a latte, but no need — remember, that cost is included in your meal plan!

With the additional money you’ve saved from your meal plan, parking permit, and laundry, you may consider redistributing that money to attend extracurriculars. Colleges usually have more hidden fees in this category, but that’s not the case at Richmond! Division I sports tickets? Free for all students, regardless of sport. Performing Arts tickets? Either free or significantly reduced. Student activity fees? Richmond doesn’t charge a general fee. Some of the areas that often run up the highest additional costs (like sports clubs) are heavily subsidized by the university. From our beautiful turf intramural fields to the awesome branded gear worn by our sports clubs, I can assure you that the average $30/year dues aren’t playing for all of that.

You’ll never find extra costs like Orientation Fees at Richmond, and none of our amazing pre-orientation programs carry any additional expense (you can even move in early without any financial strings attached). The same goes for our living-learning programs – if you take part in the Richmond Endeavor as a first-year student, our Sophomore Scholars in Residence (SSIR) program, or one of the Chaplaincy’s Pilgrimage journeys, you’ll have a variety of experiences funded completely. At other institutions, these types of programs can run up thousands of additional dollars.

Studying Abroad
Did you know more than 60% of Spiders study abroad at least once during undergrad? Aside from having flexible options (studying abroad for a semester, year, or summer), Richmond works to make it affordable. Study abroad can carry all sorts of additional costs, but Richmond is here to support you financially. All students studying abroad are credited $1,000 for a travel allowance. This is put into your Spider account as a tuition credit, and how you use the additional money is completely up to you! Some save it for airfare, passport and visa fees, or for immersive cultural events while abroad.

There are no application or general study abroad fees, nor fees to transfer course credit back home. Richmond also provides comprehensive international health insurance for you. Any financial aid or scholarship you’re receiving carries with you, and there are even additional study abroad grants and scholarships for which you can apply.

Summer Experiences
By now, hopefully, you’re familiar with the Richmond Guarantee. For most students, some form of summer experience in college (internships, research, service, or study abroad) is definitely on the horizon. These experiences are so influential during your college years and increasingly critical for post-college success in a global marketplace. Not only does Richmond help you find these opportunities, but we fund them as well. As a Spider, you are guaranteed up to $4,000 for at least one unpaid or underpaid internship or research experience. Many students apply more than once and complete multiple funded summer projects.

These are just a few examples of how Richmond utilizes its resources to the benefit of its students. Just how much you benefit will ultimately depend on your experience – what you’re looking for and how you take advantage of all Richmond has to offer. But in monetary terms? It’s easy to see these benefits adding up to $10,000-$15,000 for the average student – and even more for others.