College can be expensive—you know that. There’s tuition, books, room and board, and possibly even travel costs. But while families understandably focus on the cost of attending, there are actually a bunch of college-related expenses that come up well before you receive an acceptance letter (or a tuition bill). The application process itself includes college application fees, testing costs, and expenses related to visiting schools. Knowing about these costs in advance can help you prepare for them, and strategize on how to keep them manageable.
How much are college application fees?
What you pay partly depends on where you apply, because application fees and requirements can vary from one school to the next. Among the more than 936 ranked colleges that submitted data to US News and World Report in an annual survey, the average application fee was $44. However, there are schools that charge at least $75 to apply, with a few schools’ application fees topping $100.
Some schools may require applicants to complete the CSS ProfileTM to be eligible for non-federal student aid, such as institutional grants. There's a $25 fee the first time you send your profile to a school or scholarship program and $16 for each additional submission.
The costs of college admissions tests
For years, standardized tests like the SAT® and ACT® have been a fixture of the college admissions process. And while recently, a growing list of schools is dropping their requirement or making it optional, many students are still choosing to take these exams. And when students take the tests multiple times hoping to improve their scores, the fees can really add up. Here’s what taking them will cost you.
- SAT Exam - starting at $55: To register for the SAT exam, you’ll pay a $55 fee. The College Board®, the organization 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 one, and for any reports you request after the nine-day period ends.
- ACT Exam - starting at $60: Taking the full ACT with no writing section costs $60, but you’ll pay $80 if you choose to take it with the writing portion. You can send up to four reports to schools for free. For scores to be sent to additional schools, you’ll need to pay $16 per school.
- Test preparation: While it’s possible to study for these exams on the cheap (or even for free!), many students will choose to enroll in test prep courses or hire tutors, which may be costly.
Visiting schools in-person can help you get a feel for what life will be like on campus. It also gives you the opportunity to talk to current students and get their first-hand impressions. But if you visit every school you apply to, the associated costs (like flights, gas, meals out, and hotel rooms) can add up quickly.
How to save on college prep fees
1. 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 test 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 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.
2. Apply for waivers
If you are enrolled in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), receive public assistance, live in subsidized public housing or meet other 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. With the SAT exam fee waiver, you can send scores to as many colleges as you like for free. You can ask a high school counselor or your target school's financial aid office where to find the appropriate waiver application.
If you received a SAT exam fee waiver, you could automatically be eligible for college application fee waivers. More than 2,000 colleges participate in this fee-waiver program, including schools that use the Coalition, Common and Universal applications.
College application fee waivers may be available even if you didn't receive a SAT exam fee waiver. For Common Application schools, you can request a waiver online within your profile. When applying to other schools, you can ask your high school counselor or the college's admission office how to request a waiver. The National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) also has an application fee waiver request form you can fill out and submit to schools.
3. Visit schools virtually
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more schools are offering virtual visits. These might include live or pre-recorded virtual tours, online information and question and answer sessions, robust libraries of informational videos, and more. If you have your heart set on visiting in-person, you can always start with virtual trips and then visit your top final options in-person once you’ve received your acceptance letters.