When you start helping your child apply for college, it quickly becomes clear that you could be looking at spending hundreds of dollars just to give your kid a chance to be accepted into university.
In fact, “Why does applying for college cost money?” was the subject of a question recently addressed in our Facebook group. One poster made a very good point — you could spend quite a lot of money for applications, standardized tests, and in deposits while you wait to be accepted at various schools.
The good news is that, for some students, it’s possible to get a college application fee waiver, and there are some ways to reduce the cost of applying for college. Here’s what you need to know to prepare for the cost of applying for college.
How Much Does it Cost to Apply for College?
First of all, it’s important to get an idea of what you might pay to apply for college. Many colleges charge application fees, and even before you get to that point, you’re going to be faced with college test fees and anything you pay to help your child prepare to take standardized tests.
Here are some of the common costs you can expect to pay when applying for school:
- College application fees: The average college application fee is $43, according to U.S. News & World Report, with the most common fee sitting at $50. However, if you’re applying to more elite schools, you can expect to pay $70 or $80 — or more.
- SAT fees: For 2018-19, it costs $64.50 to take the SAT with Essay.
- ACT fees: If you take the ACT in 2018-19, it will cost $67.00 with the writing portion included.
- Test prep tutor: If you want to pay for a tutor to help with test prep, you’re likely to pay between $60 and $80 an hour for the best tutors, according to services website Thumbtack.
- Test prep courses: If you decide to buy a course, you could pay between $199 and $1,599 (or more), according to Reviews.com, depending on the features you choose and the level of customized instruction your student needs.
- CSS Profile: Submitting a CSS Profile to schools or scholarship programs will cost $25 for your first submission and $16 for each subsequent submission.
Let’s say your child applies to four colleges and you decide to take both the SAT and the ACT and, rather than get a tutor, you buy one mid-priced test prep course for each test. Your costs would likely look like this:
- 4 college applications at $50 = $200
- 2 tests ($64.50 + $67.00) = $131.50
- 2 college prep courses at $399 each = $798
- 4 CSS Profile submissions ($25 + [$16 x 3]) = $73
Just getting ready to apply for college, in this case, costs $1,202.50.
Your biggest savings comes from skimping on the SAT test prep and ACT test prep costs. If you’re willing to take a chance that your child will do just fine on the test without paying for a course or a tutor, you’re looking at costs closer to $404.50.
Of course, that doesn’t include housing deposits, college tours, and other costs involved with trying to choose a school.
How Can I Avoid Paying College Application Fees?
For some students, it’s possible to avoid paying some of the costs associated with applying for college.
First of all, both the SAT and ACT offer you the chance to send your scores to up to four schools free of charge when you do so within a specific time frame. (Send your scores to more than four schools, though, and it’ll cost you.)
When signing up to take the test, make sure you know the window for sending your scores for free. This can shave a few bucks off your costs. And, of course, consider narrowing your school choices down. The fewer schools you apply to, the less you’ll pay in fees.
Another way to avoid paying fees is to see if you qualify for a waiver. For families that meet income requirements, you can find out how to receive a fee waiver for college applications.
It’s also possible to receive a waiver, in some cases, just by asking. Here’s one comment from someone in our Facebook group:
“We’ve been able to get waivers just by reaching out to recruiters and mentioning how high the fees are. Or visiting the schools themselves. One was even $100 application waiver.”
The SAT and ACT both offer fee waivers for the standardized tests for students who qualify, so check to see if that’s an option for you. Additionally, if you qualify for the SAT fee waiver, you might also be able to get a fee waiver for your college applications.
It’s even possible to obtain a CSS Profile fee waiver if you qualify. Some test prep courses also offer refunds if your scores are high enough to allow you admittance into some of the country’s top schools. Check the terms and conditions to see if your test prep course qualifies.
What Colleges Have Free Application Fees?
For some schools, though, the answer to the question, “Why does applying for college cost money?” is “It doesn’t!”
In addition to a fee waiver for college applications, some schools just don’t charge at all. Some colleges and universities will accept your college application for free online, and only charge if you send in a paper application.
Another tactic it to check to see if the state or school has free application days. For example, Colorado and Virginia both have designated days for free applications.
You can get a list of schools with no application fee from PrepScholar. This is a great resource to help you reduce the cost of applying for college.
Unfortunately, you’re likely to pay some costs when it comes to applying for college. However, by looking for alternative resources, checking for fee waivers, and being a little choosier about which schools you apply for in the first place, you can reduce your costs.
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by Miranda Marquit, who has been covering personal finance for more than 10 years, including aspects of college planning and student loans. She is a recognized money expert and has contributed to numerous media outlets, including Forbes, Marketwatch, NPR, USA Today, Investopedia, and U.S. News & World Report. She lives in Idaho with her teenage son — who she’s just starting to guide through the college selection and admissions process.