High school students and their families getting ready to apply for college are probably most focused on the cost of attending, but they also should be aware of the hefty costs associated with just applying to college. These costs can add up quickly if you're not paying attention, especially if you apply to more than just a few schools. According the National Association for College Admission Counseling, students are applying to more schools than ever before, thanks in part to the fact that many schools now accept the Common Application -- more than a third of students now apply to more than seven colleges!
With regard to application fees, the good news is that about half of the 518 schools that participate in the Common Application do not charge a fee if you apply online. For the other half, the fees can vary. While some schools have low fees of $10, most schools are in the $50 range, though some more competitive and national colleges and universities have fees over $60 -- Stanford University, for example, charges $90 and Yale University, $80. You can find a complete list of application fees from the schools that accept the Common Application at CollegeData.com.
Many institutions consider standardized test scores to be a crucial part of the admissions process, and many students don't realize how costly they can be. The current charge to take the SAT exam for example is $52.50, and for the ACT test, it's $54.50 with the writing section, and $38 without. Since many students opt to take the SAT at least two times, that's $105 right out of the gate. The fee includes four free score reports (four institutions of your choosing), but additional reports will cost you $11.25 a piece. But there's more -- register late for the exam and you will be hit with another $28; a similar fee applies if you decide to change the testing site or date of the exam. For the ACT, it's more of the same: there is a $12 fee for sending reports to more than four schools; late registration fee of $24; and $23 to change test site or date. SAT subject matter tests such as Physics or Math come with a $26 base fee and additional charge of $16 (or $28 for a language with listening test) for each test you take. AP exams are even more expensive at $91 a pop! The College Board does provide waivers and, in some cases, fee reductions for students with demonstrated financial need. The ACT also provides fee waivers for students in need; more information on fee waivers is usually sent local high schools, so be sure to ask for the details.
Applying for federal financial aid is always free, but many schools, particularly private colleges and universities (about 400 in total), require additional information from CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® to award other financial aid and scholarships outside of federal sources, sometimes referred to as "institutional aid." The cost to send this report to one school is $25 and each additional school is $16.
Finally, it's also important to take into account the cost of travel associated with college visits, which can amount to thousands of dollars without careful planning. Staying closer to home to attend college will certainly reduce those costs, but families may also save money by combining these trips with planned vacations, teaming up with fellow classmates traveling to the same schools, or using a college tour company that can provide more bang for your buck and avoid family member expenses.
So before your college application costs get out of hand, be sure to have a family conversation and agree upfront to the number of schools that you will apply to. Make sure you sign up for tests like the SAT on time to avoid late fees, only sign up for those that are required and investigate whether you might be eligible for a fee waiver or reduction. Be cognizant of the application fees charged by the schools you are interested in so you are not surprised when you're ready to submit your application. And, last but not least, plan your college visits carefully to minimize travel costs. Otherwise, the cost of attendance won't be the only college expense that gives you sticker shock.