Saving Money on Applying to College
Q. I want to go to college, but I can’t afford all the testing and application fees. Is there anything I can do to make the application process cheaper?
A. Absolutely! The cost of attending college is high enough already. And when you add in the fact that it costs something just to apply to each school, financial concerns can be a barrier to college for some.
While most are aware that federal financial aid is intended to help pay for college itself, many are not aware there are ways to reduce the cost of applying to college. The three major costs involved in getting into college are testing, applying and visiting (campuses). Each offers opportunities for savings.
In the area of college admission testing, I would suggest you use two strategies. First, be efficient in the number of times you take the test(s). I think you should definitely plan to test more than once, but how many times you take the test(s) can be minimized. If you test without being prepared, you know you’ll have to test again. And if your plan to raise your score depends solely on repetition, you’ll need to take the test several times to improve. So prepare before you test and you’ll do better and have to take fewer tests. There’s plenty of free information available on the Internet and from your high school counselor, and a test prep workshop from a reputable company or individual can really help (and usually doesn’t cost too much). Don’t spend the money on a test prep book you won’t use, but the twenty bucks one costs can definitely help if you’ll use it. Also, if you start taking the tests early (at least by Spring of Junior year) you’ll be spreading out the cost and it will feel less expensive.
Second, both ACT and the College Board (the people who put out the SAT) offer test fee-waivers in certain circumstances. So if the cost of testing is preventing you from doing so, visit the following web sites and discuss the subject with your high school counselor. You may be eligible for a waiver.
College admission application fees are another cost that can be significant. These fees can be $30 to $100 or more per school, and it’s shocking, but nearly 25% of new freshmen applied to seven or more schools (according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling). So if application fees are preventing you from applying, you can do a couple of things to economize.
First, while I don’t want you to rule out any schools simply because of cost or distance from home, be realistic. If there’s no real chance you’d actually go to the University of Hawaii because it’s so far from home, or even if you were admitted to Princeton, you wouldn’t really want to spend the $30,000+ to attend, don’t apply! It would be cool to say you’d been admitted to schools like that, but is the cool factor worth the cost?
Second, if you truly can’t afford to apply to a school, but are interested, visit with your high school counselor about having them draft a letter explaining your financial limitations AND your interest, and ask for a waiver. You can include that letter with your application or use forms provided by the College Board or NACAC. Sometimes, schools will defer the application fee (allowing you to wait to pay the fee until you have financial aid for school), but many will also waive the fee entirely.
I’m not suggesting you wait until you’re sure about a school before you apply (and saving application fees that way), because you need the schools you’re interested in to know you’re interested. I’m just suggesting you be smart about which schools you apply to, and how many.
Visiting college campuses is another expensive activity, but also one that can be done economically. Starting early (Sophomore year or before) will help spread out the travel expenses involved and make them more palatable. You can also combine summer vacations or trips to visit family with stops at nearby college campuses. I firmly believe the more college campuses you visit, the better you’ll know what you like and don’t like, and what you’re looking for in a school. In fact, campus visits are often cited as the deciding factor for many students. I would encourage you to tag along with friends who are visiting campuses or coordinate travel with friends and their families who are considering the same school(s) as you. Also, when spending the night on a college visit, try to stay on campus. Often schools will rent out campus housing to visitors at very reasonable rates. And if you have friends attending a school you’re considering, ask to sleep on their floor – college students love to show off their school and would probably be glad to show you around.
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