Cutting the Cost of Applying to College

Senior Assistant Editor, Scholarship Manager, Wintergreen Orchard House

Oct   2013



Applying to college is an expense in and of itself—never mind forking over the tuition! In this day and age, there is no balance between the money available to families and the money expected by schools just in order to apply. You have to pay (in most cases) just to apply, pay to take the SAT/ACT exams, and pay to travel to visit the school, plus any housing/food you’ll need to take care of. Not even having hard numbers for each of those situations, you know you’ll still be shelling out quite a few extra bucks that aren’t in the budget.

So what do you do? Do you apply to fewer schools than you want to save money? Do you just not go on a campus visit and hope for the best? There are a few options available that can help cut some costs down, so let’s dive right in:

SAT/ACT fees

In 2013, it costs $51 to take the SAT and $36.50 (or $52.50 including the writing exam) for the ACT.  Think about taking those at least two times—you’re spending upwards of $100 and you haven’t even applied to school yet! There are also hidden fees. For example, if you don’t specify schools to send your scores to when you’re taking the test, it will cost you more to do so later on. Yikes.

To offset testing fees, check out information for fee waivers on the ACT and then at the College Board for the SAT. Each of these options has specific qualifications you have to meet based on economic need. If you don’t meet those requirements, you can also look for schools that don’t require you to take either test in order to apply.

Application fees

The application fee has a little more wiggle room because it’s set by the school and is not associated with a national testing agency.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s any cheaper than test fees. Application fees can range from a manageable $10 to upwards of $90 (I’m looking at you, Stanford!). Here are a few ways to reduce or totally obliterate your application fee:

  1. Before putting your college list together, set a budget for how much you (or your parents) can spend. This will force you to research all app fees and really decide which schools are worth applying to now that you have a limit.
  2. CollegeXpress has the most updated list of schools that don’t charge fees. Even if none of these schools are on your radar, it’s still a great way to see if there are some near you that you haven’t considered yet. You could find an awesome school and not have to pay an app fee.
  3. Don't assume paper applications are the best way to go or that they’ll set you apart: a lot of schools will allow online submissions to be sent in for free or at a reduced price.

  4. As with the SAT and ACT fee waivers, an organization called NACAC offers application fee waivers, provided you fall into some of the same categories of economic need.
  5. Cut down the list of colleges where you want to apply. Even applying to one less school could save you a good $30 or $40.

Travel vouchers

These seem to be going extinct these days, but it doesn’t mean they still aren’t worth a shot when it comes to needing a little extra money for a college visit. A travel voucher is money given to you by the college to come and get all there is out of a visit without having to spend extra money. Green Mountain College in Vermont offers a $1,000 travel grant, which includes a campus tour, info session, interview, meetings with faculty/staff, and class visits.

If this is a school you really want to go to, it can never hurt to call the admission office and see if they can offer you anything to help offset costs. If you’re a student they are seriously looking at, it’s a great option for both parties.

If your favorite school truly can’t help you pay to make the trip, there are other options. YouVisit is the premier site for virtual college visits. With videos, panoramas, walking tours, photos, and more, they are able to bring the school to you—even being miles and miles away. CollegeWeekLive is another helpful site that provides virtual college fairs where colleges, students, admission representatives, and more offer presentations for potential students. You can ask questions after the presentation is over and get as much firsthand information as possible.

Stay close to home

Moving away isn’t in the cards for some students—and that’s okay! There are so many fantastic schools out there and you do not need to move far away to feel like you’re far away.

If you’re undecided, try using the CollegeXpress suggested schools list that is created off of your list of favorited schools. If you really want to go to Harvard and you live in California, but can’t afford it, that in and of itself could generate a list of schools you never thought about applying to. You can get the same education and have the same, if not a better, experience, at a school much closer to home (and think of all the money you’d save).

Make it a group affair

Grab a set of friends and their parents and head out on a group tour of colleges you’re all interested in. By doing it this way, you can get group discounts on travel and you can all bunk in hotel rooms together to cut costs. Most college sites will have “nearby accommodation” pages where they show you which hotels offer price reductions to families visiting the school. Boston College is a perfect example of this type of discount. If you’re not a fan of flying (or just not a fan of paying the price), AMTRAK offers a campus visit discount where you can buy one ticket and get the second for 50% off.  By traveling in a group, you can visit a few schools, save a few bucks, and have a fun vacation with a few friends!

Even implementing just one or two of all of these options can save you money through the college application process. When wallets are thin and bank accounts are low, saving just a few dollars can make all the difference.

Have you found a way to cut costs? Please share in the comments!

Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »

About Megan Gibbs

Megan Gibbs

Megan is the Assistant Director of Online Marketing and Analytics Carnegie Communications, where she has worked since graduating from Merrimack College in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in communication. When not daydreaming about winning an Emmy or Oscar as a screenwriter, she spends her days working as Wintergreen’s editor for colleges and universities in the Southeast and building their scholarship database. As an avid sports fan and high school athlete herself, Megan not only looks forward to all Boston sports seasons, but also can't wait to root for her younger sister as she begins her Merrimack College softball career as a catcher this upcoming fall. She hopes to provide a fun and unique look at college and university-level athletics from March Madness, scholarships, and recruitment to intramurals and athletic culture! 

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