Biggest College Ripoffs — And How to Avoid Them

For some reason, college students seem to get scammed quite a bit. Unfortunately, all of the scams and rip-offs cannot be avoided, but there are some good ways to help ease the pain. Here are some of the biggest rip-offs on college campuses, and some suggestions for avoiding them.


There may be no greater injustice than how much one must pay for textbooks. Even if you buy used textbooks from the bookstore, you still pay much, much more than they pay you when you return it at the end of the year. For example, the bookstore bought my Statistics textbook (that I paid $100 for) for $15. They turned around and were selling used copies for $50 bucks. What a rip-off! Not to mention, many of the textbooks that are required are written by the very professor who’s teaching the class. I wonder if they get a profit when someone buys the textbook they wrote? I was furious one time when I had to buy an Economics textbook for $50 dollars. We never ended up using it at all (the entire class was just lecture notes), I got my A, but the University Bookstore wouldn’t buy it back because they were releasing a new edition.

Rip-off Defense:

The best way to defend against the injustice that is college textbooks is to avoid the bookstores at all costs. EBay and Facebook Marketplace are great venues to find used textbooks for better prices. There are also a slew of used textbook stores available online (although I’m not sure how good some of the deals are, or if they may be rip-offs in and of themselves). If you can buy one textbook and share it with a friend in the class, you can also save some cash. Better still is to just buy it from a friend, he or she will give you a better price than the bookstore (they may even get more than the bookstore would offer as well).

Campus Parking

Campus parking varies from school to school. From what I’ve seen, large urban schools are where students get screwed the most. At my school, a parking pass that allows you to park literally a few miles away from main campus costs $300. Four years previously it only cost $60. Not to mention the battle that usually occurs when students have to deal with parking officers. In fact, last year alone I probably spent almost $500 on parking and tickets (there’s a few lengthy stories, but I assure you, I was getting scammed by campus parking enforcers). Using parking meters is just bad news because some transportation and parking officers will sit and wait for the meter to run out (seriously, it happened to my dad when he was visiting me). Small colleges generally have much better parking, but passes are still quite expensive almost anywhere, and tickets are always terrible.

Rip-off Defense:

If you don’t need a car, don’t bring it to campus. Use alternate means of transportation (campus bus services, shuttles, a bike, even a skateboard), bum rides off of your friends. You can also try to find better parking for cheaper (possibly going through local businesses), or just move your car around in business lots and hope you don’t get a ticket. Other than that, universities pretty much own students with parking fees.

Athletic Events

Now, I realize that many schools are different. Smaller schools certainly don’t make students pay for tickets (or, if they do, it’s pretty cheap). However, for those of us at big time programs, tickets to football and or basketball can be a complete rip-off. When my grandfather was at Ohio State, tickets to every football and basketball game cost a total of $5. Well, I just paid $180 for tickets to 5 home games. Oh my, how the times change. I realize that student tickets are still discounted, but given the fact that many schools don’t sit their students on the 50 (or half court), or anywhere near the best seats, I think it’s a rip-off. It’s the students’ team, so they should be allowed to have the best seats, at the lowest prices.

Rip-Off Defense:

One option is obviously just not going to games. However, for me, that’s unthinkable. The best defense is to buy your tickets, and subsequently sell tickets for any games that you may not be able to attend (or don’t want to attend, although even playing a I-AA team can sometimes get interesting). Generally speaking, students can charge some alumnus much more than they paid for a halfway decent game. Some students can even profit from it. In fact, my friend actually would buy college sports tickets, and then sell them.

Credit Cards

Credit card companies LOVE college students. They give students loads of credit because they know their parents will bail them out. They also want to get students spending early and often. They offer great promotions (”sign up for this credit card and get a free hat!”) in order to get students to sign up. If you ever notice, the credit card companies and banks may be out in force when students first arrive back on campus. That’s because they want you to get in debt ASAP. They know that most college students are living on their own for the first time, and who doesn’t want to use that nice piece of plastic for pizza and beer every night of the week? Credit cards are pretty much one of the biggest rip-offs college students face.

Rip-off Defense:

The biggest mistake you can make is to sign up for multiple credit cards. My step-sister once thought she’d be clever by signing up for loads of credit cards, collecting the promotional rewards, and then promptly canceling them. Well, canceling all those credit cards pretty much destroyed her credit, and it took her a long time to get it back on track. I suggest getting one credit card (because it’s a great idea to build credit while in college, else you get stuck with a $500 monthly credit limit when you’re 24, which happened to my other sister who didn’t want to get a credit card in college), sticking with it, making payments on time, and just be smart with your money. Credit card companies will still love giving you more credit (especially if you pay on time). My credit line more than doubled randomly. When I asked the credit card company why this was, they told me they weren’t at liberty to discuss it, which I thought was quite odd. In any case, they want me spending more, but I’m not going to let them win.

Random University Fees

Every time I turn around and look at my tuition bill, it seems like there’s another fee. There’s the basic classroom fee, and obviously the professors’ salary, but there’s also other fees that sometimes I don’t feel I should have to pay. Paying for a huge recreational facility that not everyone uses doesn’t seem logical to me. Paying a fee for free bus transportation when I don’t use the bus also doesn’t seem quite fair. Calculate the fact that there may be loads of other fees that seem to make little sense, and college students sometimes get ripped-off by their own university. Sometimes I wonder if Universities enjoy going Hughes Net on their students.

Rip-off defense:

I’ve said it before, but use the university resources you pay for. You can’t really avoid having to pay the fees. The university is the boss, and you’re just a lowly peasant. You could have a student rally in protest if you want, but generally the results aren’t very favorable. If they are going to charge me an arm and a leg for a recreational facility, then I’m going to make sure I hit the gym like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Campus Dining

I hesitate to list this one, because it seems like every college has a different way of doing meals. My college has meal plans. My girlfriends’ college makes students pay a flat fee in the beginning of the year, and meals are essentially come and eat as you please. That being said, campus dining generally always over charges. I know students can eat more cheaply (and possibly more healthy) then they actually do. Not to mention, sometimes the quality of college cafeteria food is very poor.

If I’m paying hundreds of dollars a quarter to eat, at least let me have a nice steak! Not to mention, campus-dining hours always seem to be ridiculous. I hate how on weekends cafeterias have weird hours, so students are forced to go elsewhere or figure something else out. As for breakfast, some colleges hold breakfast from like 7-10AM. What college student wants to have to wake up that early to get breakfast? Especially if they have class at 12. Maybe I’m just lazy and love sleep, but come on, is serving breakfast until 2PM really that difficult?

Rip-off Defense:

The best defense for this depends on how you’re university runs things. In my case, it means choosing the cheapest meal plan that will fit your needs, and possibly getting your own food and trying to cook cheaply for yourself (Ramen noodles galore). In the case of schools like my girlfriend’s (who have to pre-pay for their food), it means eating in the cafeteria whenever possible, no matter how terrible the food might be. Pretty much having bad college food is almost unavoidable. It’s almost a right of passage.

Unfortunately, when some people look at college students, they only see dollar signs. So, following these few tips may help you to not get completely ripped-off in college (but once again, sometimes it is just unavoidable).

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