DIY? 74% Of Students Can’t Afford Important College Costs

College is shockingly expensive — and I’m not talking about tuition. Yes, that’s a big figure (and climbing every year), but it’s not surprising. Students know what to expect on their tuition bills at the beginning of each semester. Universities and colleges, for their part, emphasize their accessible aid packages and scholarships.

So what really throws students like YOU for a loop? The hidden costs of college.

Textbooks. Housing. Test prep. Study abroad. The price tags on these costs may, individually, be lower than those tuition bills, but in total they still carry hefty price tags. Indeed, these are not inconsequential expenses, especially for students that have limited resources leaving them with little extra to spare. Some, like course materials, are mandatory, which means students need to get a hold of enough cash or risk suffering academically. Others are optional, but missing out due to financial restraints can have long-term impacts.

1,000 Dreams Fund conducted a survey (underwritten by investment services firm Charles Schwab) of millennials and Gen Zers about the unexpected costs of college  about the unexpected costs of college and their impact on women, minority and first-generation students. The most important hidden college cost our survey uncovered? Those “extras” – enrichment activities like study abroad and off-campus internships. An incredible 74% of our survey respondents recognize the immense value of such extracurricular activities — and, perhaps even more astonishingly, the same percentage (74%) had to turn down such opportunities because they just couldn’t afford them.

So when do the financial stresses begin, and who is impacted? Financial instability affects every step of the college process, from researching options in high school to post-graduation career paths. And even more disturbing, there’s a gender gap. More women than men, by a significant percentage (51% to 39%), say they felt unprepared to manage their finances after graduating high school. More women than men said their financial standing impacted their final college choice. And more women than men say they dropped out of college because of financial reasons. These are just some of the gender-related findings we found in our survey.

The discrepancy isn’t just male-female. We also found critical gaps based on race and family educational history. Seventy-three percent of Hispanic students said their financial standing affected their college choice, limiting their options and thus limiting their postgraduate opportunities. A similarly high percentage — 71% — of first-generation students ran into the same barrier. Among African American respondents, 65% of those who attended college did so for two years or less, and of those that did not finish, 36% say it was due to financial issues.

While these hidden college costs are thought of as “extras,” in truth, they’re not. Choosing a college and taking advantage of extracurricular add-ons shouldn’t be exclusively available to students with a higher family income level. Equally qualified and intelligent people are being excluded from key opportunities, and — in some cases — are unable to even make it to graduation. That’s not just a detriment to individual people: These are motivated young men and women who want to put their smarts to use, but unanticipated expenses are blocking their paths.

There’s no one clear answer, but we did ask our survey respondents to consider what would have made the biggest difference to them. And it came through loud and clear: better financial education. The majority of those who feel financially unstable or unprepared say they would have greatly benefited from a workshop or class, either in high school or college that taught them how to appropriately manage their money.

We owe it to all incoming students to offer not only financial support in the form of money, but also in the form of education. Teaching young women how to properly handle their personal finances can set them on a clearer path toward collegiate and post-graduate success.

To access our full Hidden Costs of College Report, please visit 1000dreamsfund.org/about/research.

Christie Garton
Founder + CEO
1,000 Dreams Fund