Start Budgeting for College Application Season

While families understandably focus on the cost of attending college, there are many college-related expenses to account for before ever receiving a letter of acceptance. College visits can help students narrow their list of preferred schools, and help them avoid paying for applications to colleges that might not be a good fit.

Even so, between taking tests, ordering test reports and sending in college applications, the costs can quickly add up. It's important to start budgeting for these expenses early.

How Much do College Applications Cost?

What you pay partly depends on where you apply, because application fees and test requirements can vary from one school to the next. Some colleges require applicants take the SAT or ACT and several SAT subject tests; others only require that applicants take one - the ACT, SAT or subject tests. Estimating the cost of taking the tests and sending the results can help you prepare your budget.

  • Application Fee - average $41 per college. U.S. News reports the average application fee was $41 in spring 2015. The fee can climb as high as $90, but some schools may reduce or waive the fee if you apply online.
  • SAT - starting at $45. The SAT costs $57 if you take the test with the essay portion or $45 without it. It costs $26 to sign up for a subject test date, plus $20-$26 for each test you register to take (up to three tests per date). The College Board, the non-profit that administers the test, will send four score reports to schools for free if you make the request within nine days of taking the test. There's a $12 fee per score report after the fourth and for any reports you request after the nine-day period ends.
  • ACT - starting at $42.50. It costs $58.50 to take the ACT with the writing portion or $42.50 without it. You can send up to four reports to schools for free on your test date; after that, you'll need to pay $12 for each report.
  • CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® - starting at $25. Some schools require applicants fill out the College Board's CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE to be eligible for non-federal student aid, such as grants from the college. There's a $25 fee the first time you send your PROFILE to a school or scholarship program and $16 for each additional submission.

Strategize Sending Score Reports

You may be able to save money by preparing for the college application process in advance. In addition to avoiding late registration fees for tests, proper planning can help you use the four free reports that come with the SAT or ACT wisely.

For example, rather than using several of the free reports for state college system schools, you may only need to send the report to one school and it'll be distributed to the others in the system for free. You can contact the public state college you're considering applying to for more information. You may be given an institutional code that applies to the whole school system, or use a single school's code and distribute the score later.

Apply for Waivers to Save Money

If you are enrolled in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), receive public assistance, live in subsidized public housing or meet low-income requirements, you may also be able to save money by applying for testing or application fee waivers. The waivers can help cover the cost of submitting college applications and taking the SAT and ACT tests. The SAT waiver also includes an additional four score reports that you can send at any time while you're in high school. You can ask a high school guidance counselor or your target school's financial aid office where to find the appropriate waiver application.

If you received a SAT fee waiver, you could automatically be eligible for college application fee waivers that you can use to apply to up to four schools. More than 2,000 colleges participate in this fee-waiver program, including schools that use the Coalition, Common and Universal applications. You'll also be eligible for up to eight PROFILE fee waivers.

College application fee waivers may be available even if you didn't receive an SAT fee waiver. For Common Application schools, you can request a waiver online within your profile. When applying to other schools, you can ask a guidance counselor or the college's admission office how to request a waiver.

Make a Plan for How You'll Pay for College Applications

Saving for the college application process is no different than saving for any other goal. In some ways, it may even be easier because you can approximate the costs in advance. Work with your parents to set up a budget and determine how much you'll need to contribute. You may want to make a plan for how you'll save, or earn, the money and use a budgeting app to track your progress.

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