Nearly every senior in high school dreams about finally receiving an acceptance letter to college. They have put in countless hours of work—editing essays, frantically filling out forms, asking teachers for recommendations, agonizing over essays—that the process has become a surreal blur. Many younger students understand the hard work that is waiting for them, and nearly everyone has heard of the rising cost of tuition. Yet many people do not realize the hidden costs of applications, or how to reduce these costs.
The most obvious of these costs is the application fee many colleges and universities require. According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), in 2011 the average student applied to ten colleges. In spring of 2012, the U.S. News and World Report conducted an annual survey which found that the average application fee for schools was $37.88, the highest it has been in the last five years. This means that, on average, students are paying $378.80 simply for the privilege of applying. The same U.S. News survey stated that the average college receives 5,948 applications each year, meaning it makes $225,310.24 each year from these application fees. However, many colleges offer fee waivers if applications are a financial hardship for applicants.
Standardized testing is another contributor to the cost of applying to colleges. If a student takes the SAT twice, the national average according to the College Board, it would cost $100 for registration and $110 to send the scores to schools. Many colleges also require two subject tests, which if taken once on the same day would cost $47. There are four free score reports when registering for the SAT, but these must be used within nine days of taking the test. So seniors may not be able to take advantage of these free score reports.
Taking and sending the ACT twice would result in a similar bill of $211. Both tests offer fee waivers for a limited number of tests if students qualify.
Some of the highest hidden costs are for those resources that are not required but are widely used. SAT tutors, private college counselors and college tours all add significantly to the growing bill of the college search. Many believe that these options increase a student’s chance of admittance, whether by raising an SAT score 100 points or demonstrating interest in their top choice. This extra help can become a disadvantage to low income students, who might not be able to afford tutors.
How to Save: Know what you want in a college. The most effective way to reduce the cost of applying to college is narrowing your application list. Applying to six to eight schools you love is less costly and less stressful than spending a fortune in applying to 15 schools.
Look for bargains. Some schools have no application fee if you apply online. Though this is becoming less common as the Common Application is gaining popularity, there are still a large number of schools that do so. Looking on a college’s website can reveal money-saving options.
Ask for the waiver. 72 percent of the institutions surveyed by the U.S. News and World Report in 2012 reported they waive application fees for students who demonstrate financial need. Students who need waivers often have to coordinate with their high school’s counselor, so begin having these conversations early to get the help you need. With planning and research juniors may be able to avoid high costs next year when applying to college.