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Hidden college costs can become a burden for your education!

The University of Southern California (USC) is going to increase its tuition by 3.5 percent for the academic year of 2018-19.  The proposed tuition for undergraduate students will be about $55,320 for two semesters.   Along with other hidden college costs, the total expenditures for an undergraduate student at USC could be beyond $75,000 per year.

Currently, on the USC website, the annual estimated cost is $72,273 for the academic year of 2017-18.  Do USC’s estimated figures match the real cost of attendance?  Let’s compare USC’s estimates with that of UCLA, another school around the same area.

List of Costs Besides Tuition

On most colleges’ websites, schools list tuition precisely for a unit credit or the total tuition and fees for 12-18 credits per semester for undergraduate studies.

Some schools may charge one-time fees that we don’t often hear of, such as

  1. orientation fee,
  2. graduation fee,
  3. new-student fee,
  4. housing application fee,
  5. student success fee (We have no idea what that is.)
  6. a fee for dropping a class.

Other commonly underestimated figures could include:

  1. Room and board, especially for those who live in off-campus apartments.
  2. Books and supplies
  3. Transportation
  4. Medical insurance; international students need to pay this important item because the expensive doctor’s bills in the U.S. can bankrupt your parents’ bank account(s) if you don’t have a medical insurance while you study here.
  5. Other miscellaneous personal living expenses.


Time for Estimated Costs

Why should you pay attention to the time frame for the annual total cost of your U.S. college education?


  1. Hidden college costs can quickly add up to a sizable amount.
  2. A term could mean a quarter, a semester, or trimester.  You should find out what academic system your future school is on, so you can accurately estimate your cost of attendance.
  3. A quarter system divides an academic year into four sessions.  Each session lasts 10-11 weeks.  Usually, attending summer quarter is optional.
  4. A semester system: an academic is divided into fall and spring semesters. Each semester consists approximately  15-16 weeks.  This type of academic system is the most popular one because almost 90% of U.S. colleges use this system.
  5. A trimester: it offers three sessions – fall, winter, and spring with the option of the summer session.  Each session lasts 12-13 weeks.

Whose Estimated Cost of Attendance is More Accurate?

Let’s compare costs and fees provided by USC (semester system) and the costs estimated by UCLA (quarter system), which is also in the Los Angeles metro area.  In addition, the third estimated expenditures per person per month in Los Angeles city are provided by

Please note two semesters at USC consist of 144 days (or close to 5 months), and 3 quarters at UCLA are about 7 months.

Conclusion: Compared with the monthly personal expenditures provided by, USC’s estimated figures are closer to the real expenditures.  UCLA’s estimate is a bit too conservative.