How Much Does It Cost to Apply to College

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We just sent my second “baby” off to her first year of college. We now have two babies in college. Yikes! We anticipated it would be expensive to send our kids off to college, but like most parents, we wondered “How much does it cost to apply to college?”  Now that we’ve finished the college application process twice, we have a pretty good idea of how much it really costs to apply to college.

front of gothic style building

Before we went through the college application process twice, I had no idea how much it would cost to apply to college. We were so involved in the application process with my first baby that I didn’t pay very close attention to the cost (but I did know that I seemed to writing checks and charging fees left and right). I made a point to pay close attention with my second baby’s application process.  Your costs will vary depending upon what colleges and programs your baby applies to, what distances you travel and what other options you choose to use. 

How Much Does It Cost to Apply to College

Test Taking

SAT & ACT Tests – $45 for SAT

$57 for SAT with Essay

ACT $39.50

ACT with writing $56.50 

SAT Subject Test $26 registration + $20 per test or $26 per language with listening

Some college accept only the SAT or only the ACT. You may find that your student feels more comfortable and does better on one test than the other one. You won’t know that until your student takes each test at least once. Then you’ll want to take the test your student prefers or needs at least one more time. That means that for most students, they’ll take exams a minimum of three times. Some student take exams five or more times. Be sure your student takes the exam needed for the colleges he is applying to and that may mean that he has to take both.

Test Preparation

Test Taking Preparation Materials – SAT prep book $20,  ACT prep book $26, SAT Subject Test Prep $5 – $16 

Test Taking Preparation Classes – $300 – $1000

You can borrow test taking materials from many high school libraries and local libraries for free. Be aware that the test taking materials are in demand a couple of months before test taking time, so don’t wait until the last minute. There are free practice materials for tests if you check online.

We found it most useful to have each of my babies take the SAT once and ACT once. They then decided which test they felt more comfortable with and we determined which test they did better on.  Then they focused on test preparation for that specific exam. We found an online preparation class they could each take (interestingly, one focused on the SAT and one focused on the ACT). 

Send Test Scores to Colleges

SAT Test Scores – $12

ACT Test Scores – $12 – $16.50

Sure each time your student takes the exam, she can designate schools to receive her scores. Unless you and your student clearly know the four schools that she will apply each time she takes an exam, you’ll find that you have to pay to send test scores to some number of colleges. Also, if your student chooses to apply to more than four college, you’ll be paying to send test scores. 

Application Fees

College application fees range from $50 – $90

Depending on which colleges your student applies to and the total number he applies to, your application fees can range from $100 – $900 or more. 

Send High School Transcripts

I had no idea that our public high school  would charge to send my babies’ high school transcripts to colleges. At our school, it costs $3 per transcript. That’s not a lot, but  it does add up depending on how many transcripts you have to send. 

Driving to Testing and Interviews

You’ll have to pay for gas and possibly parking and tolls to get to testing locations. Some colleges conduct interviews as part of their application process. Again, it will cost you gas and possibly parking and tolls. 

Driving to Auditions and Try-outs 

Some colleges and some degrees require on-site auditions or try-outs.  Depending on the geographic distance and location of the college, you can pay any or all of the following: gas, tolls, parking, train fare, airline tickets, hotel, food, subway fare and taxi fare. 

Fee for Filing for Financial Aid

To find out if you qualify for financial aid, you’ll have to complete either the FAFSA or the CSS Profile. While there is no fee to complete the FAFSA, many schools require you complete the CSS Profile. The CSS costs $25 for the first school and $16 for each additional school. 

We found that we had to complete both the FAFSA and the CSS because different schools have different requirements. I can’t even calculate the the cost of the hours (of frustration) we spent filling out both of those forms. But if you’re hoping to receive financial aid, you don’t have another option and you’ll be filling out whatever forms those schools ask you to. 

Since financial aid was a consideration in deciding which colleges they would attend, we had to send the CSS to several colleges even though each of my babies would only attend one college.  

Mailing Personal Documents

You’ll be required to send personal tax documents to the college to determine if you qualify for financial aid. Because we’ve experienced identity theft, we didn’t feel comfortable simply faxing our personal information to a fax machine sitting who-knows-where with who-knows-who walking by. We chose to send our personal documents by registered mail, which cost approximately $15 each.

Again, since we had to fill out financial aid documents for multiple colleges so my babies could compare financial aid packages, we spent approximately $45 for each of my babies. 

College Visits

Depending on how far the colleges are located from you, you’ll pay for any or all of the following: gas, tolls, parking, train fare, airline tickets, hotel, food, subway fare and taxi fare.  Factor in how many different visits you’ll be making. 

College Presentations in Your Area

Many colleges make presentations at locations around the country.  While it may be less expensive to attend one of the regional presentations, you’ll still pay for any or all of the following: gas, tolls, parking, train fare, airline tickets, hotel, food, subway fare and taxi fare. Again, factor in how many individual presentations you’ll attend.

Example – How Much Does It Cost to Apply to College

The average student applies to 6 – 8 colleges. Let’s assume that our example student is applying to 5 colleges and taking the SAT/ACT exams a total of  4 times

Average Total Spent  – $1353.25

SAT & ACT Tests – $57

Assuming 4 exams taken (average cost per test of $14.25)

Test Taking Preparation Materials – $46

Assuming two test books (one for the SAT and one for the ACT) 

Test Taking Preparation Classes – $650

One exam prep course at the average cost of $650

Pay to Send Test Scores to Colleges – $71.25

Average cost of $14.25

Application Fees – $350

Average cost of $70

Pay to Send High School Transcripts – $15

Using cost of $3 per transcript

Completing the CSS Profile – $89

Mailing Personal Documents – $75

Assuming $15 mailing cost

Driving to Testing and Interviews –  ????

College Visits – ????

How much does it cost to apply to college? Gulp. Please be sure to contact your high school counselor and each college for assistance in fee waivers and other aid that you may qualify for. 

large wood door of gothic style building

What’s your experience with the cost of applying to college? Be sure to read our experience with the Unexpected Hidden Costs of  College. 

Unexpected Hidden Costs of Applying to College

Tips for a College Tour Visit

Tips for Staying in Touch with Your College Student

Saving for College – 40 Tips for Real Families

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  1. Gulp is right… and 5 is a conservative number. I think my youngest applied to 11 or some crazy number. You’ve laid this out very well, for anyone nearing this stage of life. A little planning goes a long way, and just good to be aware of these expenses so they don’t come as a surprise!

  2. Other “hidden” costs include paying for AP exams. I believe these tests are over $80 apiece! I am a high school teacher in a district that strongly encourages students to load up on AP courses and take the test for each class. Most kids I teach take between 2-5 of these tests a year, starting in 10th grade. Some end up getting credit at their colleges, but I understand colleges are more reluctant to honor credits earned by flying colors on the tests nowadays.

  3. Yikes! That is a shame it takes so much money to apply to college! I feel higher education is crucial to our youth and our economy, so thank you for bringing awareness to this issue!

    1. I agree, Andrea, it’s a shame that the cost of college is unnecessarily expensive. The economist in me is disappointed and the mom in me is horrified.

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