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Financial Matters: Keeping College Application Costs In Check

Applying to college can be a costly proposition. According to U.S. News and World Reports, the average college application fee charged by colleges is $42, with more than a quarter of schools charging $50 or more. Add in the cost of standardized test score reports and, at some high schools, fees for transcript requests, and the costs can quickly add up. For example, a student applying to just the top 10 universities on U.S. News’ college ranking list last year would have shelled out about $800 in application fees alone.

Here are five ways families can keep college application costs under control:

Build a thoughtful college list. Few students truly need to apply to fifteen or more colleges. Resist the temptation to add colleges to your list that you know little about or would not attend if admitted. Make sure to include several colleges that you love where you will have a high probability of admission. Then prune your “reach” schools to a manageable number. Not only will this strategy save your family money on application fees, but it will also allow you to do a better job on your applications.

Create an application budget. As you begin to research colleges, check application fees for the colleges you’re considering. The College Board, the Common Application, Naviance and other tools make it easy to quickly get an overview of application fees. Although a free application should never be your only reason for applying to a particular college, more than 400 colleges and universities never charge application fees.

Read the application instructions on each college’s website. Once you’ve decided where you will apply, be sure to read the application instructions on each college’s admission website. Many colleges waive application fees for certain types of applicants, but these “specials” aren’t always reflected or explained in the information provided by third party systems. For example, if you relied only on the Common Application requirements grid, you wouldn’t know that the University of New Haven waives its $50 application fee if you apply by December 1, or that the University of Chicago waives its $75 fee for students applying for financial aid. Other colleges waive fees for students who visit campus or who apply using the school’s own application.

Plan your test score reports strategy. Each time you take the SAT or ACT, you can request that up to four score reports be sent without charge. While students who are taking the exams for the first time might not be ready to send scores to colleges, judicious use of these free reports can reduce the cost of applying to college.

Stay organized. Haste makes waste, as the old saying goes. Rush delivery service for SAT or ACT score reports will add to your application costs. Some high schools also charge extra for last minute transcript requests. Set up and stick to a plan for getting all of your application materials to your colleges well ahead of deadlines.


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