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Image from Pexels

College application season is soon approaching for rising seniors. And while many are already scrambling to think of creative essay ideas, boost their resumes, and decide which colleges to apply to, few will seldom consider the costs associated with applying. It’s no surprise that attending a college is expensive, with many schools now costing upwards of $60,000. However, the cost of applying is high as well, especially for those applying to more than five colleges. Many of these expenses come from sources you would not expect.

Before you start applying, here are five hidden costs to consider.

1. College Application Fees

As you probably figured, it costs money to apply to a college. Most application fees are below $45; however, a considerable number of schools do have application fees ranging from $50 to $80. This can really add up, especially for those applying to many colleges.

How to Get Around This

First, you can apply for fee waivers through a form on the Common App, which you print out and have your school counselor fill out for you. NACAAC provides another fee waiver form. Both have certain qualifications such as income. If you qualify for SAT or ACT fee waivers, you’ll probably qualify for an application fee waiver as well.

Another organization that offers fee waivers is QuestBridge, which allows students who are National College Match finalists to apply to any of its 35 partner colleges for free.

Lastly, some schools offer fee waivers to those who visit or those who it would like to apply. You’ll probably start getting emails in the fall from colleges about this; these schools usually receive your contact information from the ACT or College Board when you take an exam.

If all else fails, it never hurts to call or email about a fee waiver. By using fee waivers, you can potentially save at least $500 dollars, so it’s worth it to ask.

2. Sending Test Scores

A commonly overlooked cost of college applications is sending SAT, ACT, and SAT II scores. College Board, which owns the SAT, allows score choice, meaning you can send any combination of SAT and SAT II scores that you would like for roughly $11. The ACT, however, does not give you this option, so for those who would like to send ACT scores from multiple sittings, you will be forced to pay for both scores (around $12 each).

How to Get Around This

The first thing you should do is consult your guidance counselor. He or she should have some SAT fee waivers, which can be used to pay for the test itself or to send scores. The ACT, on the other hand, only provides fee waivers for the test. To get around this, select which schools you would like to send the scores to when you register for the test.
Another option is self-reporting scores. The Common App has a section for recording your scores, and your school should possess records of your scores as well. Call or e-mail a school and ask if they will accept scores if they are on your transcript. Often times they will.

More information on fee waivers can be found here.

3.  Applying for Financial Aid

If you are applying for financial aid (which EVERYONE should do), you will likely have to fill out the CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which also happens to be run by College Board. The CSS Profile is used by private colleges to determine how much financial aid you should be given. CSS, unlike the FAFSA (another FA profile used by all colleges) costs money to fill out — $25 in fact, and an additional $16 to send the Profile to each school.

How to Get Around This

Some people automatically qualify for several fee waivers when they fill out the application, as is described here. If you do not qualify for these, you may still request fee waivers from specific schools. It is best to call or send them an e-mail detailing your financial situation. Sometimes colleges will provide you with fee payment codes which will waive the $16 fee. Some schools will also accept an e-mailed PDF of your Profile as well.

Several private schools, like Washington University in St. Louis, offer their own free alternative to the CSS. Other schools, like Pomona College, do not require the CSS for families with certain incomes.

4.  Visiting Schools

When deciding which colleges to apply to (and eventually attend), visiting schools can be extremely helpful. Unfortunately, traveling is not cheap, especially if you will be flying to and from a school. This, combined with hotel expenses, can add up to hundreds of dollars in travel costs.

How to Get Around This

Some schools offer fly-ins, which are free or reduced-cost visits to the school. Check out Benjamin Din’s article for more information.

Another more obvious solution is to visit schools with friends and split the travel costs. Visiting multiple schools in one area during a trip can save time and money as well.

5. Time

Last but not least is time, which is probably the most overlooked cost of all. This includes the time spent writing your Common App essay and filling out all those annoying questions, writing supplements, applying for financial aid, and visiting schools. It can take hours to write a single supplement, especially seemingly simple ones like “Why Cornell?” which involve in-depth research on the school. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on your essays. as well as your FAFSA and CSS Profile.

How to Get Around This

The most important thing you can do is to budget your time. Allot an hour a day to college applications. This will help avoid scrambling to finish everything the night of the deadline. This is the most important for the January 1st Regular Decision deadlines, as you will want to avoid doing college things on New Years!

Get your financial aid requirements done ASAP. Schools have specific deadlines for the CSS, FAFSA, and other documents, so be sure to check these. The earlier you submit your FA materials, the more aid you are likely to receive. By finishing your FA requirements, you also have more time to spend on essays.

Last summer, I took a college essay writing workshop which was offered through my school. In the week long class I ended up writing my actual Common App essay, saving me a great deal of time later. See if your high school offers similar programs; if not, check your library and local recreation center. Even if you can’t find a class, start brainstorming essay ideas for the given prompts. This will get you in the college mindset early and put you ahead of the game.

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