Young woman holding a folder and money.

Image source: Getty Images

There are a number of misconceptions about what you can use student loans for. Some students think they can only use them on tuition, books, and other expenses directly related to their courses, while others see student loans as free money they can spend on dining out, clothing, and vacations while they're in school.

But the truth is somewhere in the middle. While you're only supposed to use student loans for education-related expenses, these are defined more broadly than you think. Here are six surprising things you can use your student loans to cover.

1. Room and board

Full-time students can use their student loans to cover rent, utility bills, food, and other essential living expenses. These are considered education-related expenses because, without a place to live and food to eat, you would have difficulty focusing on your studies.

When you apply for student loans, lenders reach out to your school to determine the costs of education and living expenses in that area. The school furnishes lenders with information about the cost of campus housing and the average cost of living around campus. Lenders use this information to determine how much you're allowed to borrow. It's up to you to decide how much of this money to use on living expenses, but don't go overboard, or you may not have enough left over to cover your other education-related expenses.

2. Transportation costs

If you drive to classes, you can use your student loans to cover the costs of on-campus parking, gas, tolls, and even your car insurance and vehicle maintenance. You can also use your loans to cover the costs of public transportation, such as buses and trains, if you get to school this way instead.

3. Educational tools

In addition to your textbooks, your student loans can cover other education-related equipment, such as graphing calculators, a printer and ink, software you need for class, and a computer. So long as it's related to your classes, it counts as an educational expense.

4. Dependent care

Parents enrolled in college can use their student loans to cover the costs of daycare, nannies, and babysitters who take care of their child while they attend classes. If your school decides that childcare costs should be considered part of your living expenses, it will provide your lender with details on the average cost of childcare in the area to help it determine how much money it should lend you.

5. Study abroad costs

Students enrolled in study abroad programs approved by their university may use student loan funds to cover expenses associated with the program, including tuition and fees, textbooks, living expenses, and the costs of getting abroad and back. But if you travel anywhere for fun, these expenses must come out of your own pocket, because they're not related to your education.

6. Licensing and professional testing fees

If you need to pass a licensing or certification exam to work in your chosen profession, your lender may allow you to use your student loans to cover expenses related to these exams, such as testing fees. Check the terms of your student loan to see if it permits this.

While you can use your student loans to cover the above expenses, that doesn't always mean you should. Remember, you'll have to pay back whatever you borrow with interest, so if you can afford to pay for some of these expenses on your own, you'll reduce the amount you pay overall.