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By Greg Daugherty
September 1, 2016

What’s the biggest financial surprise awaiting the families of college-bound students?

For many it’s likely to be unexpected (and often baffling) fees, according to a MONEY/Barnes & Noble College survey of college students and parents.

Asked the question “When it comes to paying for college, what is the biggest surprise you have had?,” more than 160 survey respondents cited fees of one kind or another.

High fraternity and sorority fees were bemoaned by a number of students and parents. But most reserved their wrath for mandatory fees imposed by the colleges themselves.

Could it be that in their quest for more revenue colleges are taking a page from such fee-happy industries as hotels, airlines, and cable TV companies?

Judge for yourself. Here’s just a tiny sampling of what students and parents told us.

“FEES. FEES. FEES. You’re not paying for the education. You’re paying for the ‘student activity fee,’ ‘transportation fee,’ ‘athletic fee’ (which doesn’t allow you to use the gym without additional money), ‘ID card fee,’ ‘student success fee.’ —Student, male

“Random fees, such as ‘student excellence fee.’” —Student, male

“Fees charged for buildings/construction that my child will never use because construction was not finished during their attendance.” —Parent

“Even when the college says they’re lowering or keeping costs the same, they turn around and add ‘special fees’ to classes.” —Parent

“Stupid fees on bill for healthcare, athletic fee, etc., without being able to opt out for not using.” —Student, male

“The stupid fees the school says are necessary. Some of them just feel like a way to get more money out of us.” —Student, female

“Extra fees that pop up like annoying prairie dogs.” —Parent

“Right now the biggest surprises are the fees to graduate and wear the honor cords that you worked your a** off for. I shouldn’t have to pay to apply to graduate or pay for any of the honor society graduation accessories. I earned those!!!”—Student, female

While unexpected fees make budgeting for college all the more difficult, there is a small shred of good news. Any fee that counts as a “qualified educational expense” in IRS parlance can be paid for out of your 529 plan or may count toward a tax credit or deduction if you’re eligible for one.

For more results from the survey and details on how it was conducted, see our recent report “Proof Nobody Understands How Expensive College Actually Is.”

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