How Much Do College Applications Really Cost?

Sometimes college applications cost money--who knew? Here are some of the costs you could face before you even hit submit, plus some ways to reduce those costs.

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The cost of going to college can start to add up before you even fill out the application. Many students and families fork over a lot for test prep courses, SAT and ACT application fees, and tutoring before even starting the college search. This can add up to as much as $4,688 for your first application—and if you want to apply to multiple schools (which most students should) than that number will keep adding up. Let’s take a look at all the fees that add up during college application season and ways you can cut those costs down to save some money.

Application fees and additional costs

College application fees cost an average of $43, according to a 2017 survey by U.S. News & World Report. The most common application fee was $50. Generally, the more exclusive the school, the more it costs to apply. But that’s not always the case. Some schools completely forego the application fee, and most allow students with financial hardship to apply for a fee waiver. But what about the other fees you incur for different testing requirements needed to submit your applications.

SAT and ACT fees

Most colleges require students to submit SAT or ACT scores when they apply. Some states allow students to take these tests for free the first time. If you don’t live in one of these states, you have to pay unless you qualify for a fee waiver. International students might have to pay more to take the SAT since other countries sometimes have additional processing fees. You also have to get your score report to your schools. You generally get a number of free score reports, though most students end up requesting more. Score report requests are eligible for a fee waiver, but other fees might not be.

AP exam fees

Taking AP courses strengthens your college applications and helps you save on tuition by allowing you to earn credits, but it also increases the upfront cost of applying to college. Like with the SAT and ACT, low-income students might be able to qualify for a fee waiver to take these tests.

Test prep courses

Test prep courses could be worth the investment if they can boost your score enough to get you into your dream school. But they can easily top $1,000 when you sign up. While more personalized attention can help if you’re a student who struggles, take a diagnostic test first to find out how much studying you really need to do. If you’re close to your target score, you might not need to do more than buy a $20 test prep guide and work through it on your own.

Related: Should I Take AP Tests if I Took the Courses?

Ways to cut college application costs

Factor in test prep, taking the SAT and ACT multiple times, score reports, and tutoring and you could end up with a nearly $5,000 bill before filling out that first college application (which may also come with a fee to submit). Want even more tutoring, AP exams, and SAT Subject Tests? Applying to more than one school? You might have to pay even more! It’s possible to avoid some fees when you’re applying to college though. Before you sign up for test prep or submit your applications, consider these options for lowering the cost of applying:

Apply to no-fee schools

Not all schools charge an application fee, and colleges don’t always advertise this. If you can’t find one listed on their website, give their admission office a call to make sure there’s no fee to apply.

Apply Early Decision to your top choice school

Applying Early Decision can cut down on costs in a few ways. If you get in, you can save on application fees to additional colleges, extra score report fees, and transcript fees—but note that if you’re accepted through Early Decision, you have to attend that school.

Be thoughtful about your choices

Even if you’re at the top of your class, it might not be worth applying to every Ivy League school—you can only attend one, after all. Experts also recommend you apply to at least one safety school, a school of your choice that you have a good chance of getting into.

Related: 11 Unexpected College Costs You Should Know

Request a fee waiver

Low-income students can often apply for a test or application fee waiver. You can apply for an SAT and ACT fee waiver when you register for the test. Each school has its own process for waiving application fees. Some request that you apply through the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the College Board, or the Common App. Others might have an application you can complete on their admission website.

Apply to colleges that don’t require test scores

Another way to save on test-related costs is to avoid them altogether. Many top schools are test optional, meaning they don’t require or even consider SAT or ACT scores.

Take the SAT or ACT on standby

The SAT and ACT charge slightly lower prices to students who sign up to take the test only if there’s room. While you might show up at the testing center only to be turned away, you won’t pay the fee unless you actually test.

Take advantage of free study resources and tutoring

Many high schools and communities offer free test prep courses and college essay tutoring at little to no cost. Start by reaching out to your high school counselor, or look into resources offered at community centers in your area.

Related: How I Was Able to Apply to 7 Colleges, Save Money, and Enjoy My Senior Year

College applications can be the most stressful part of the college admission process, and high application costs make that even more stressful for a lot of students. But there are ways to go about cutting your costs that you should take advantage of. Being a little more strategic in your planning will make for a smoother process, and you can instead spend your energy on getting excited about being accepted to college!

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