What Are the Costs Involved in Applying to College

Jan 03, 2020
student scholarships

While families that plan to invest in their child’s continued education are often acutely aware of the staggering costs of attending college, what many tend to overlook are the expenses associated with the college application process itself. This is clearly understandable, given that tuition and fees alone at both private and public four-year colleges have increased at levels significantly exceeding income growth and inflation in the past decade. But to avoid surprises and any unnecessary strain on your household budget before your child even enrolls, it can help to get a fuller understanding of the typical costs involved in college admissions:

College entrance exam fees: In order to make admissions decisions, most colleges and universities require that students take the SAT or ACT. However, despite a common misconception, all schools will accept either one of these test scores. According to the Princeton Review, colleges express no preference for either the SAT or ACT. However, the test preparation service also submits that it may be beneficial to take both in their article “5 Reasons to Take BOTH the ACT and SAT.” In addition, many students will take college entrance exams more than once, so you will want to account for this, as well as any Advanced Placement tests, which run $94 each.

Breaking down the SAT and ACT costs: For the 2019-2020 academic year, the SAT costs $49.50 and SAT with Essay costs $64.50. In addition, certain schools also require, recommend or consider SAT Subject Tests as well, which entail a basic registration fee of $26, plus the costs of the individual tests at $22 each ($26 for Language Tests with Listening). If you take the ACT, the basic cost is $52.50 and $68 for the ACT with Writing. For those with demonstrated financial need, it may be possible to get a waiver for exam fees. Find details in “How to Get SAT/ACT Few Waivers.”

Prep for standardized tests: Although some families pay thousands of dollars in private tutoring to maximize scores on college entrance exams, others may be content to avail themselves of free online study guides and test prep offerings from services like the Khan Academy. According to Tutors.com, you might expect to pay an average of about $70 per hour for a private tutor for the SAT, but the price can vary greatly by region, and even by individual zip codes. For a mid-priced college prep course rather than private tutor, Road2College provides a typical example of $798 for two courses at $399 each. The same source also offers an estimated price range of anywhere from $199 to $1,599+ for test prep courses, according to insights gleaned from Reviews.com. But keep in mind that even the more costly test prep companies tend to offer a range of options at different price points. For the SAT alone, Kaplan offers a comprehensive Live Online course package starting at $899 (discounted to $599 from now until Jan. 6, 2020 with coupon code), as well as a free trial and an on-demand course for as low as $99 as of this writing.

Application fees: Since the average cost of one college application tends to be in the range of $40 to $44, it’s not unusual for one student to spend several hundred dollars on application fees to multiple colleges. In some cases, high schools may also charge a small fee for sending official transcripts to colleges.

Topping the list of “Colleges With the Highest Application Fees,” was Stanford University in 2019 at a price tag of $90. For the University of California and California State University system, application fees run $70 for each campus. If you’re eligible for a waiver based on demonstrated financial need, this will cover the application fee for up to four campuses at either system.

In some cases, colleges may accept an in-person interview at the school in lieu of an application fee or make exceptions for highly recruited students, or less commonly, for legacy students. It may also be possible to get a waiver based on financial need. But as The Balance points out, the majority of families should expect to make room in their budget for application fees. On the other hand, there are a significant number of schools that do not charge application fees at all. Find an updated list at PrepScholar.

Financial aid applications: About 400 colleges require students to complete the CSS Profile for non-federal financial aid. As CollegeVine explains, the CSS Profile presents a more thorough understanding of a student’s financial situation, so that colleges can determine what kind of institutional aid they can award in addition to what the federal government may provide. Unlike the FAFSA, which is required in order to receive any financial aid from the federal government, the CSS Profile is not free. Submitting the CSS Profile to one college (or scholarship program) costs $25, and it is $16 to send it to each additional school. The CSS Profile provides waivers to first-year undergraduate students whose parents live in the U.S. and who qualify based on financial need (eligibility is automatically assessed at the time students complete the application).

Travel: For many students, visiting a college campus is an important step in the college selection process, and some schools may even require an in-person interview. Travel expenses might include  flights, fuel, rental vehicles, lodging, meals and more. Also keep in mind that many schools also offer Accepted Student Days or may hold freshman orientation during the summer months before the academic year begins.

Be discriminating in hiring any college consultants: The recent news headlines on college admissions scandals may represent some extreme examples, but they do highlight the importance of caution in retaining an advisor to help with the application process. As The Balance cautions, it’s important to stay alert to fraud, and to learn the true costs involved, so that you don’t get gouged by items like a markup on college application fees, or a charge for you to file the FAFSA (it is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, after all). Seeking advice in this area? Rebecca Lake weighs the pros and cons of an admissions consultant in  “Is a College Coach Worth the Investment.”

Finally, as college costs rise, it can be reassuring to remember that there is an abundance of federal, state and private resources to help bridge the gap between the costs of college, and what families and students can reasonably afford to pay. At The Police Credit Union, we continue to support our law enforcement members and their families by awarding five $1,000 college scholarships each year to committed students. Still hoping to apply this year? We’re pleased to announce that we’ve extended our Scholarship Application period to January 15, 2020. Find details and apply at https://www.thepolicecu.org/scholarship
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