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A College Application Could Cost $5,000: Here Are Some Savings Tips

It can cost nearly $5,000 just to for a college application – but it doesn’t have to.

College Application
maura24 / Pixabay

The student debt crisis has been getting a lot of attention as of late — and for good reason. More than 44 million Americans have a combined student debt load of nearly $1.5 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. But even getting into college can cost families thousands of dollars per child. Luckily there are lots of resources students and parents can take advantage of to potentially eliminate that cost.

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Why is it so expensive to apply to college?

There are two main parts of the college application that can get expensive: standardized tests and the essay.

The high price of acing the SAT or ACT

It costs $49.50 to register for the general SAT and $64.50 with the essay section. The general ACT costs $50.50 to register for and $67 with the essay. SAT subject tests and language tests run from $22 to $26, depending on how many you take. Other fees that might come with the SAT include various late fees, score reports and rush orders, which can run from $12 to $53.

But these registration fees aren’t the reasons standardized tests are so expensive. The real cost comes with test prep. In-person courses are particularly expensive. Kaplan charges up to $2,000 for a test prep course and studying with the Princeton Review can cost as much as $1,600. Even online courses like Magoosh cost $79 per month.

The cost of a winning essay

Your college admissions essays are arguably one of the most important parts of your application, especially if you’re interested in the humanities. That’s why so many parents hire a tutor to help coach their child through the essay-writing process.

While it might boost your chances of getting into your dream school, it can also add up fast. Tutors can cost anywhere from $100 to $500 an hour. Even just a few sessions with a top-tier tutor can top $1,000.

So how much does it actually cost to apply?

It depends on the student. Here’s a breakdown of what a typical family might pay to apply to a more expensive school (we’re looking at you, Stanford).

Concept Cost
Application fee $90
Taking the SAT with an essay twice $129
Taking the ACT with an essay twice $134
Taking one SAT subject test $26
Taking one SAT language test $26
Taking one AP exam $94
Taking one AP Capstone exam $142
Ordering an SAT rush report $31
Ordering an ACT rush report $16.50
Taking one test-prep course $1,999
Taking five hours of essay tutoring $2,000
Grand total $4,687.50

Source: Finder

How to avoid spending $5,000 on college applications

Applying to college might cost as much as $4,688 when you factor in tutoring, application fees, taking the test multiple times and rush-ordering reports. But it doesn’t have to cost anything at all if you know how to take advantage of free resources.

Sign up for free or discounted test prep

Schools, libraries and community centers often offer free test prep courses and essay coaching to high school students in the neighborhood. These might not offer the same one-on-one attention you’d get with a $500-an-hour tutor, but they’ll help you go into the test prepared.

High school guidance counselors and English teachers could be great resources when it comes to writing your college essays. Some might even devote class time to workshopping your college essays if there’s room in the curriculum.

Apply for fee waivers

Can’t afford to take the SAT multiple times? Can’t foot a $90 application fee? The College Board and most schools offer fee waivers to low-income students. You can apply when you sign up for the SAT or ACT, or when you submit your college application.

While AP exams don’t come with a fee waiver, the College Board can reduce the fee to $32 based on financial need.

Get everything in before the deadline

Late and rush report fees are easy to avoid if you respect the deadlines. Put them in your calendar and try to get everything in early to avoid a last-minute snafu, which will cost you a pretty penny.

Remember: Where you go to school isn’t everything

The college experience can sometimes fundamentally shape your career and personality. But an Ivy League degree doesn’t automatically translate into success — however you define it. Keeping an open mind about where you attend college can be the biggest saver of all. You might not even need a college degree for the career path you want.

Consider schools that don’t charge an application fee at all. Or look abroad to tuition-free schools that don’t care about the SAT and cost a fraction of the price you’d pay at even a state university. There are affordable options out there. You just need to know where to look.


About Anna Serio

Anna Serio is a staff writer for finder.com, untangling everything you need to know about personal loans, including student, car and business loans. She spent five years living in Beirut, where she was a news editor for The Daily Star and hung out with a lot of cats. She loves to eat, travel and save money.