Forget tuition, just applying to college can cost thousands

Amy Scott Apr 1, 2013

Forget tuition, just applying to college can cost thousands

Amy Scott Apr 1, 2013

It’s the time of year when colleges finally put high school seniors — and their anxious parents — out of their collective misery.

By today, most schools have sent out their acceptance and rejection letters. Many selective colleges reported another record year for applications — which means they turned more students away. But not before collecting their application fees.

Niall Murphy, a high school senior from Los Angeles, spent $700 on college application fees this year. Or, his parents did. The web and the Common Application have made it easy to apply to a bunch of schools at once.

“Because, why not?” Murphy says. “That was the mentality that my parents had going in.”

“Why not?” is one reason applications keep pouring into elite colleges at record rates. And so does money.

Take Harvard. It got 35,000 applications this year. Harvard says it waives the fee for more than 10 percent of applicants. Even so, at $75 a pop, that’s more than $2 million in fees. Director of admissions Marlyn McGrath says that covers a “very small part” of the costs of the admissions process.

But that’s Harvard. A smaller school like Vassar College brought in a smaller windfall — about $380,000 in fees.

“It’s really such a small item in our budget that it doesn’t make much difference at all,” says Vassar president Catharine Hill.

Applications to Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., jumped 20 percent this year — but fees didn’t.

“We, in fact, waive an application fee for anyone who submits their application online, and that’s how all of our applications are coming in,” says dean of admissions Paul Thiboutot.

The surge in applications is great for business in another way. Appearing more selective attracts more students — that you can then turn down to appear more selective.

Niall Murphy says one of the first things he looked at was a college’s acceptance rate.

“You want to apply to schools with lower acceptance rates and you want to get into those schools,” he says. “It kind of just becomes about feeling good about yourself.”

He got into Bard College in New York, and five other schools. He’s waiting to hear about financial aid.

So what would the total costs look like for a student applying for college? We tally up the fees and deposits:

Application fees: $37.88 (average). According to U.S. News & World Report, the average cost of application fees provided by 1,391 ranked colleges in Spring 2012 was $37.88. That is the highest average in the past five years. (In 2011, the average was $37.45) Stanford University had the highest application fee in the nation at $90.

SAT fees: $50. The main SAT test costs $50, and that comes with four free score reports that can be sent to colleges. Any additional score reports cost $11 each. Additionally, the fee for any of the SAT subject test will cost $35 for non-language tests, and $46 for language tests.

ACT fees: $35. The ACT also comes with four free score reports, with additional reports at $11 each. The ACT Plus Writing Test, required by some colleges, costs $50.50.

College visits: Approximately $3,500. The college campus visit is considered an important step in an applicant’s selection process, but the travel, food and lodging fees can add up. All can depend on distances and areas of the schools, but has some tips on ways to save.

Housing deposits: $100-$350. The deposit holds a place for a student’s housing on or near campus, varies in cost by college, and is usually non-refundable.

Tuition deposits: $50-$500. This deposit confirms enrollment for a student in a college. It also varies by school, and usually non-refundable.

SAT/ACT tutoring: $125/session. Private tutoring for the tests will range in costs by tutor, and can often be even more (one headline-making tutor was charging $693 a session).

College admissions counseling: $95-$375/hour. According to the Wall Street Journal and the Independent Educational Consultants Association in 2011, private counseling from college-prep advisers cost hundreds of dollars per session.

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