When Aaron Johnson returned to his Columbia University dorm from his weekly grocery shopping trip, he felt devastated by the number on the receipt: $30. Next week, he vowed, he would spend $20.
Johnson, a Gates Millennium Scholar, came to Columbia from a low-income community in Los Angeles. He felt overwhelmed not only by the prospect of changing coasts and entering the Ivy League, but also by the necessity of buying food and textbooks.
“You’re handling a full-time course load, you’re given a budget and you’re supposed to stretch it out for months on your own,” he says. “You’re thrust out into a competitive market, and there’s no one holding your hand explaining how things work.”
Johnson ultimately decided to take time off from Columbia due to a combination of financial and personal concerns. He currently works as a security guard and is enrolled part-time at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College. Looking ahead, he hopes to transfer soon to the University of Southern California and believes “there needs to be a much greater push to connect college students with resources for discounts.”
Like Johnson, many students struggle with the additional costs that come with college. Some end up failing to effectively manage these expenses. In response, a growing number of organizations have made it their mission to help.
Here are three main ways that college students waste money, along with the services that can help them save:<
When profs pass out a syllabus, they’re also handing out a hefty bill. The College Board reports that the average student living on campus at a four-year college or university spent $1,231 on books and supplies this year.
“When students are faced with choosing between paying for rent or buying their textbook, they often have to choose the former,” says Ethan Senack, higher education advocate for U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, which recently found that 65% of students had decided against buying a required textbook because it was too expensive.
Many students lose money by shopping at the campus bookstore, a haven of high price tags. But more affordable alternatives to campus bookstores have cropped up in recent years.
The classic Russian novel Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, which remains a staple on the reading lists of English courses, provides a powerful example. The Kenyon College bookstore lists Anna Karenina for $18.00. The online learning platform Chegg lets users rent the novel for $9.99 or buy a used copy for $4.99. And the volunteer effort Project Gutenberg and GoogleBooks let users access the novel online for free.