How Much Does It Cost To Apply To College

Even the most well-prepared high school students and parents may be surprised by the cost of applying to college. While they may have done extensive research to learn about the cost of attending college and the fundamentals of college financial aid, few truly comprehend how much money is invested before the student even begins the application process.

There are numerous small amounts and fees that can quickly add up and deplete any household budget. This article carefully breaks down the costs of application fees for colleges.

What Factors Can Drive Up The Application Fees For Colleges

Application fees for colleges differ depending on a variety of factors. Some of them are-


If a student is considering attending a college outside of their hometown, several trips may be required before the school year even begins. A student should visit a potential college campus because they may be called in for an in-person interview.

Once accepted, there may be a freshman orientation weekend, which will incur additional costs. The cost of the student’s travel several times a year, as well as possible travel for parents’ weekends, must also be considered.

These can all add up and may come as a surprise if not factored into the initial cost calculation.

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Most colleges require prospective students to take the SAT or ACT to demonstrate their academic abilities. There are costs associated with taking these tests, as well as possible prep classes or study manuals that help the student prepare for the exam. Students in financial need may be eligible for a waiver of test fees.


There may be a fee for sending transcripts, particularly if a student is applying to multiple colleges or transferring from one college to another. This is another cost that drives up application fees for college

Application Fees

Most colleges charge a fee to submit an application. According to a survey conducted by U.S. News & World Report, the average application fee ranges from $44 to $78, with higher-than-average fees charged by schools such as Stanford, Duke, and Columbia.

Students who believe they are tipping the acceptance scales in their favor by applying to a large number of colleges frequently rack up hundreds of dollars in fees. This can be avoided by using a more discriminatory selection process or by specifically looking for colleges that charge nothing or a small fee to apply.

Although some colleges may waive fees, particularly for prospective students with demonstrated financial need, the majority of applicants cannot rely on this. Other fee exemptions may be available for students who have a relative who attended the institution.

In certain cases, it may actually be worthwhile to ask a school to waive an application fee if you are a highly recruited student. Those with the highest grades or specific athletic abilities may be eligible for a free application.

Additional Costs Beyond the Application Fee

When you apply to college, the application fee isn’t the only cost you’ll have to pay. There are additional costs that are frequently overlooked. These are some examples:

  • As part of your application, you must have your high school transcript sent to the schools to which you are applying. Some schools provide this service for free, while others charge a small fee per school. Your school may also charge a small fee for students attending schools outside of the state. The fee for your school can be obtained from your high school’s guidance counseling department or the district registrar’s office.
  • You will also need to send a copy of your standardized test scores to the schools. For example, when you register for the SAT exam, you get four free score reports, but additional reports cost $11.25.
  • You may need to send additional materials to the school depending on the type of academic program you’re applying to. Portfolios or work samples, for example, are frequently required by arts and design programs, and you will be responsible for the cost of preparing and mailing those items. This cost varies greatly depending on the number and type of materials mailed (such as an original painting, a photograph of a sculpture, or a DVD featuring a theater performance).

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How to Keep Costs of Application fees for Colleges Down?

The good news is that there are ways to save money on application fees for college. Three suggestions for lowering your total cost are as follows:

  • Only apply to schools where you have a strong desire to study. While it’s a good idea to apply to several schools, including one or two that seem out of reach, the majority of your applications should go to schools that are likely to accept you and that you’ll seriously consider attending. This is one of the ways to keep down application fees for colleges. 
  • Investigate fee waivers. Most schools will waive the application fee for students who can show that their families are in financial need. Your high school guidance counselor can help you fill out The National Association for College Admission Counseling’s Request for Admission Application Fee Waiver form, which is accepted by the vast majority of colleges.
  • Online applications are accepted. Some colleges, such as the University of Hartford, offer free or reduced application fees to students who apply online. This reduces administrative costs for the school while also making things faster and more convenient for you. Applying online is one of the best ways to keep application fees for colleges down.

How much does it Cost for Application Fees to Colleges?

Many colleges will require standardized test scores from either the SAT or ACT. You can take the tests as many times as you want to improve your score, but you must pay the test fee each time.

Waivers for SAT and ACT testing fees are available. Waivers are distributed based on need by high school guidance counselors. In terms of college application fees, you should consider-

The SAT test

The cost of the SAT is $47.50. You’ll pay $64.50 if you take the SAT with an essay, which some schools require. You can send scores to up to four schools for free, but if you want to send scores to more than four schools, you must pay $12 per report.


The ACT test will cost $50.50 to register for. You will be charged $67 to take the test with the essay. Your results will be sent to four different schools. Each additional school will cost $13.

Application Fees

Again, there is no limit to the number of colleges you can apply to, but each will almost certainly charge an application fee. According to U.S. News & World Report, which ranks colleges annually, the average fee is $50, but it can range from $50 to $90 at some elite colleges.

Application fees are frequently required for the Common App, a standard application accepted by approximately 900 colleges.

According to a NerdWallet analysis, the average application fee for schools that accepted the Common App and required an application fee during the 2020-21 application period was nearly $55.

Despite this, nearly half of the colleges that accepted the Common App did not charge a fee. However, if you meet the criteria for financial need, schools will waive the fee. You could also look into colleges that do not require application fees for colleges.

Financial aid applications

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, gets its name from the fact that submitting it is free.

It is the key to obtaining federal student aid, such as grants, scholarships, work-study, and federal student loans. Choose up to ten schools to receive the results of your FAFSA submission.

Some of the schools on your list may require the CSS Profile in order to receive state and institutional financial aid. In contrast to the FAFSA, the CSS Profile costs $25 to submit to a single school.

It will cost $16 per school to send scores to additional colleges. However, you may be eligible for a CSS Profile fee waiver, which would cover these costs.

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How Do the Application Fees for Colleges Add Up?

If you have a set budget for applying to schools, ask yourself, “Is every school on my list one I want to attend — and can afford?” Here are three examples of how application costs can quickly add up.

Scenario 1: Apply to five schools

Assume you intend to apply to five colleges with $50 application fees. You intend to take the SAT and ACT tests only once. Two of the colleges require that you submit the CSS Profile. Here’s an estimate of how much you’ll have to pay:

  • SAT test -$47.50
  • ACT test- $50.50
  • Application fees – ($50 x 5)
  • FAFSA – $0
  • CSS Profile for two schools – $25 + $16
  • Total – $389

Scenario 2: Apply to eight schools

You intend to apply to eight different colleges. You only want to take the SAT with an essay once. The CSS Profile is required by three of the colleges. Seven of the schools have $50 application fees, but you are also applying to one that has a $75 application fee. Here’s an estimate of how much you’ll have to pay.

  • SAT test with essay = $64.50
  • Application fees = ($50 x 7) + $75
  • FAFSA = $0
  • CSS Profile for three schools = $25 + $16 + $16
  • Total = $546.50

Scenario 3: Get fee waivers for applications at four schools

Assume you’ve been granted fee waivers for testing and four applications you’d like to submit. If none of these schools require the CSS Profile for financial aid, you may be able to apply for college for free.

  • SAT test with essay = waived
  • Application fees = waived
  • FAFSA = $0
  • Total = $0

Visits to the campus Travel expenses, including food and lodging, can quickly add up depending on the distance traveled to visit schools. While you may not need to visit every school on your list, some will require in-person interviews or auditions as part of the admissions process.

Courses and materials for SAT/ACT preparation. To improve your exam score, you may want to enroll in a test prep course or purchase study guides.

The most recent Official SAT Study Guide from the College Board costs $28.99, and the prep course costs $38.98. The official ACT Prep Guide costs $32.95, and the ACT Online Prep course costs $39.95.

Counseling for college admissions Using professional college admissions consultants can be costly. You could pay hundreds of dollars per hour for advice to several thousand dollars for boot camps and one-on-one tutoring.

How Can I Avoid the High Cost of Application Fees in Colleges?

There are several ways to keep your college application fees low or even get them waived entirely, saving you a lot of money. Before you even begin applying to schools, it is recommended that you narrow your options down to five to eight schools in total.

It is critical to maintain a high level of organization. This way, you can avoid deadlines and make the most of the time you have. Once you’ve decided which schools you want to apply to, check with them to make sure you submit your application as soon as possible and to confirm any deadlines.

Early application waivers are available from some institutions for those who submit their admission applications early. This will also assist you in avoiding any potential late fees.

Furthermore, some colleges and universities will host fairs and waive application fees for those who attend. Keep an eye out for institution-specific events at the schools that interest you to take advantage of these.

Applying to state schools is another way to keep college application costs low. In general, these schools have lower application fees (or even none at all).

In fact, some schools do not charge an application fee at all. Choosing one of these schools will undoubtedly save you money. Other schools waive application fees if you submit your application online.

Another option for avoiding college application fees is to apply for a waiver, which you will be able to do if certain criteria are met. There are a number of conditions that may result in application fee waivers. Among these conditions are the following:

  • If you applied for and were granted a fee waiver for the SAT or ACT, you may be eligible for a fee waiver for your college entrance applications.
  • Qualify for various federally subsidized housing options or receive government assistance due to being classified as low-income. You may be eligible for a tax credit.
  • You may be eligible if you are a member of certain programs, such as Upward Bound.
  • You may also be eligible for assistance if you are in foster care or are considered an orphan.

In most cases, you must indicate on your electronic or paper application that you are applying for or intend to receive a fee waiver. Contact the National Association of College Admission Counseling for an application fee waiver form (NACAC).

It’s also a good idea to check with the school where you’re applying to see if there are any special requirements or verification forms they’ll need to process to consider you for this application fee waiver.

Since payment (or a waiver) is required as part of the application package when applying to colleges, it is a good idea to know what you must submit ahead of time to ensure that your application package is complete.

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To take the SAT or ACT and apply to a local college or two, you should budget at least $100. If you’re a high-achieving student applying to ten highly selective colleges spread across a large geographic area, you could easily spend $2,000 or more on application fees, exam fees, and travel.

It is not uncommon for students to spend more than $10,000 on college applications because they hire a college consultant, travel to schools for visits, and take numerous standardized tests.

However, the application process does not have to be prohibitively expensive. Fee waivers are available for both colleges and the SAT/ACT for low-income students, and things like consultants and expensive travel are considered luxuries rather than necessities. The application fees for colleges varies, depending on all of the factors explained above.



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