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It could cost as much as $4,688 to apply to your dream school

What fees you can expect to pay and how to avoid spending thousands.

The cost of going to college can start to add up before you even fill out the application. Many students fork over for test prep courses, SAT and ACT application fees and tutoring before even looking at schools. This can add up to as much as $4,688 for that first application. But there are a few ways to cut back — like applying to schools that don’t require SAT scores.

How much do college applications cost?

College application fees cost an average of $43, according to a 2017 survey by US News and World Report. However, 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.

Application fees for top US colleges

Here’s how much it costs to apply to an undergraduate degree program at popular colleges and universities around the US. Graduate applications are typically more expensive. And some schools also have a different fee for transfer or international students.

CollegeApplication fee
Penn State$65
Boston University$80
University of South Florida$30
UT Austin$75
UC Davis$70
University of Chicago$75
University of Florida$30
Florida State University$30

What other costs should I consider?

Even if you only apply to Ivy League school, the application fee might not be the most expensive part of the college admissions process. How much you fork over depends on how much you want to invest in your college application.

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. Otherwise you have to pay, unless you qualify for a fee waiver.

In fact, the cost of registering for the SAT can be more expensive than some college application fees. If you take it more than once to try to increase your scores, you’ll end up paying even more.

Test2019–2020 fees
General SAT$49.50
SAT with essay$64.50
SAT subject test
  • Registration fee: $26
  • Additional fee per test: $22
SAT language test with listening
  • Registration fee: $26
  • Additional fee per test: $26
General ACT$50.50
ACT with writing$67

International students might have to pay more to take the SAT, since other countries sometimes have additional processing fees. If you miss your test date, register late or want to change your test date, you also often have to pay more.

Other SAT fees

Fee type2019–2020 fees
Phone registration fee$15
Test date or center change fee$30
Late registration fee$30
Waitlist fee$53
Test type change fee:$30

Other ACT fees

Fee type2019–2020 fees
Late registration fee$30
Test date or center change fee$30
Standby fee$53
Test information release fee$20
Phone re-registration fee$15

SAT and ACT score report fees

Registering for the SAT and ACT is only part of the cost. You also have to get your score report to your schools, which comes with a fee. 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.

SAT score report$12 per report, after the first 4 free reports
ACT score report$13 per report, after the first 4 free reports
SAT score report rush order$31 per report
ACT score report rush order$16.50 per report
SAT score report by phone$15 per call
ACT score report by phone$15 per call, in addition to the cost of each rush order

AP exam fees

  • Regular AP exam: $94 per exam
  • AP Capstone: $142 per exam

Taking AP courses strengthens your college application and helps you save on tuition by allowing you to earn credits for the fraction of the cost of an actual class. But it does increase 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.

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.

Kaplan$899 to $1,999
Princeton Review$299 to $1,599
Magoosh$79 per month of access to online resources

Many companies offer the choice between online and classroom tutoring. Princeton offers private tutors starting at $150 an hour, which includes access to its SAT and ACT self-paced courses.

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.

College essay tutoring

  • Cost: $100 to $500 per hour

Depending on where you apply, your college essay could be even more important than your grades and test scores. A tutor can help you figure out what you want to say and navigate that tight word limit.

High school transcript fees

  • Cost: Varies by school

Some schools charge students a fee for sending your high school transcript to each college. If you can’t afford the fee, reach out to your guidance counselor to find out if there are fee waivers available.

How one application can cost as much as $4,688

Factor in test prep, taking the SAT and ACT multiple times, rushing score reports and tutoring and you can end up with a nearly $5,000 bill for that first college application. Here’s how it breaks down:

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 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

Want even more tutoring, AP exams and subject tests? Apply to more than one school? You might have to pay even more.

7 ways to save on your college application

It’s possible to avoid some fees when you’re applying to college. Before you sign up for test prep or submit your application, consider these options for lowering the cost of applying.

1. Apply to no-fee schools

Not all schools charge an application fee — it’s possible one you’ve had your eye on doesn’t. Colleges don’t always advertise that they don’t have an application fee. If you can’t find one listed on their website, give their admissions office a call to make sure there’s no fee to apply.

Schools that rely on the Common App often don’t charge an application fee, though you might have to pay one if the school requires any supplementary forms.

2. Apply early decision to your top choice

Applying early decision can potentially cut down on costs in a few ways. If you get in, you can save on the following fees:

  • Application fees to additional colleges
  • Extra score report fees
  • Transcript fees

3. Be thoughtful about your choices

The more schools you apply to, the more application, score report and transcript fees you have to pay. Think about what you really want out of a school and where you can realistically get in.

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 chance of getting into.

4. 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 — if they even offer it. 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 admissions website.

5. Take the SAT or ACT on standby

Both 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. It’s also a good way to avoid paying late fees — you don’t have to register on time to be waitlisted.

6. 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 guidance counselor. Or look into resources offered at community and activist centers in your area.

7. Apply to a college that doesn’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.

Apply to only these schools and you could still get into a strong school without having to sit through hours of test prep and a long exam.

I finished my application. Are there other costs I need to consider?

Yes. Even before you sign up for school and start paying tuition and fees, there are a few expenses that might crop up.

  • Visiting colleges. Some colleges require an interview, which could mean you have to travel. Or you might want to visit some schools in person before making a decision. This could easily set you back over $1,000 in airfare, hotels and other travel expenses.
  • Orientation costs. Schools sometimes require incoming first-year students to participate in a bonding experience like a camping trip before the start of the first semester.
  • NCAA registration fees. Student athletes have to register with the NCAA before they start school. This costs $90, though fee waivers are available.
  • Deposits. Some schools require an admissions and housing deposit before you start the semester, which varies by college.
  • Financial aid applications. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) might be free, but some schools require you to also submit a CSS profile. This costs $25 for the first school and $16 for each additional college if you fill it out before getting your acceptance letters.

Bottom line

The cost of college doesn’t start with tuition and fees. It begins with SAT or ACT prep courses, tutoring and AP classes. But you don’t necessarily have to pay thousands of dollars, since there are a few ways around these fees.

You can find other ways to cut down on costs with our college savings hacks. Or learn more about paying for college by reading our student loans guide.

Frequently asked questions

Are there any other costs international students should consider?

Yes. Applying to a US school as an international student is typically more expensive. SAT and ACT score reports might come with higher processing fees. You might have to take the TOEFL or IELTS if English isn’t your first language. Application fees might be higher, and many fee waivers aren’t available to nonresidents.

Research how to pay for school when you’re an international student to learn about your financial aid options.

How many schools should I apply to?

It depends, though generally you should have at least one safety school, one achievable option and one reach.

However, the number of schools you apply to depends on how much time you have to devote to each application and how much you want to spend. The more schools you apply to, the more it can cost. And you might not be able to spend the time you need making each application the best it can be.

Does the SAT fee waiver cover the cost of sending scores?

Yes, you can get a fee waiver to cover additional score reports on top of the registration costs.

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Anna Serio was a lead editor at Finder, specializing in consumer and business financing. A trusted lending expert and former certified commercial loan officer, Anna's written and edited more than 1,000 articles on Finder to help Americans strengthen their financial literacy. Her expertise and analysis on personal, student, business and car loans has been featured in publications like Business Insider, CNBC and Nasdaq, and has appeared on NBC and KADN. Anna holds an MA in Middle Eastern studies from the American University of Beirut and a BA in Creative Writing from Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, CUNY. See full bio

Anna's expertise
Anna has written 251 Finder guides across topics including:
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