Applying to College: Costs to Expect & Tips to Save

Sep 23, 2021 1:05:07 PM

Attending college isn’t cheap – and before you even get accepted, there are numerous costs associated with applying to schools. From SAT study sessions, to campus orientation visits, to college application fees, these pre-enrollment expenses can add up fast! In fact, some students are spending nearly $2,000 on college applications.

To help you save money while applying to college, here are the most common costs to watch for – along with some useful tips on how to budget smartly and spend less.

Application Fees

The average college application fee is $44 per school, according to U.S. World News & Report. However, some schools can charge as much as $100, or more, to apply. When researching schools, check these fees in advance and make sure they’re part of your overall college application budget. If you can’t find a school’s application fee listed online, feel free to get in touch with the registrar’s office and request this information – it won’t reflect badly on you or your application.

How to save: Ask your high school guidance counselor about college application fee waivers, which are often available for students already receiving other types of financial assistance such as a free lunch program. College admissions offices may also have specific waivers for their institution. You can view fee waiver options online, or get in touch with the admissions office directly. Remember: it never hurts to ask!

Test Prep

While tests like the SAT and ACT don’t carry the same weight they once did, as many schools are now putting a larger focus on the personal essay and overall suitability of college candidates, it’s equally true that depending on the university, strong test scores can make or break a college application. The cost of test prep varies widely: you could spend $50 for a textbook or access to online resources, while a comprehensive after-school course could run you up to $1,000.

How to save: Be practical about your investment in test prep. Do your practice scores indicate a need for significant improvement? How important are test scores to the schools where you plan to apply? Purchasing used study books online is a good way to save money, but be sure the edition you select corresponds to the most up-to-date version of the test. If extra study support is needed, consider if there’s a neighbor or family friend who knows the subject and would be willing to trade tutoring for another service you can offer, like mowing the lawn or caring for a pet.

School Visits

While it’s not necessary to visit the schools you might want to attend, it’s certainly a good idea. Choosing a college is a big deal! This is the place where you’ll be investing four years of your life and laying a foundation for the future. During college visits you can not only see the campus, but also meet faculty and current students. Of course, there are costs involved, including transportation, accommodation, and meals – all of which may vary greatly depending on where the school is located.

How to save: Airline fares continue to rise and fall in unexpected patterns, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. If your schedule is flexible, check airlines’ monthly price listing and choose a date when fares are least expensive; or sign up for fare watcher alerts. If you can drive to your schools of interest, check in with friends to see if anyone is interesting in carpooling, to split the cost of gas and possibly accommodation. If you do anticipate big spending on school visits, this could be a good opportunity to sign up for a credit card that offers cash-back or bonus points for spending a certain amount during the introductory period – but as always, consider your payment and debt management strategy carefully before spending with a card.

Other Costs

Many resources are available to help college hopefuls, including study support to boost your high school GPA, writing tutors to nail the personal essay, and so on. There’s also the cost of extracurriculars to account for, as students sometimes aim to join more activities before applying to colleges, in order to create a more well-rounded application. If you’re looking to get involved with the debate team, sports, student government or the theater department, there may be additional costs to account for.

How to save: As with any expenditures, the best way to save is through smart budgeting. Take a good hard look at household finances and determine as a family how much you can set aside for these various college applications costs. Budget it all out, then prioritize in terms of what’s most essential – depending on school choice, you may decide it’s more important to pay for an SAT tutor, as opposed to spending $100 to join the JV soccer team for the last few months of senior year. You can also consider withdrawing money early from a college savings account, or using a loan or credit card to cover college application costs – just be sure to chat with a financial expert first (consider reaching out to our partners at GreenPath Financial Wellness), who can help determine which path is right for you.

Tags: Student Finances, Money Tips, Budgeting