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From the moment you become a parent, everyone tells you how important it is to start a college savings plan for your bundle of joy. It’s true that starting a financial plan when your child is still in diapers will allow you and your child to minimize the need to take out student loans, which can ultimately save thousands of dollars in interest. You’ve saved over the years, focusing your efforts on putting aside money for tuition and room and board, safe in the thought that you won’t have any school expenses until your student begins the first year of college. Think again! Well before your child sets foot on the college campus of his or her choosing, you’re going to have to cover some expenses like college application fees.
Your child may take the SATs as early as sophomore year in high school, and the search for the right school usually takes place in the junior and senior years. Take note that there are costs.
There’s much to do between applying to schools and picking the right one, and it can be an expensive process. If you don’t know what to expect, college application fees can take you by surprise, and you may find yourself paying for more than you have to.
The Costs: According to Collegeboard.com, the cost for the SATs is $49.50, $64.50 if you include the essay portion. If you register by phone, it’s $15 more, a $30 fee for late registration, and $53 if you pay on the day of the test. Once the test has been taken, you’re allowed four free score reports with each additional report costing $12. Additional fees are added for things such as receiving scores by phone, obtaining older scores, and score verifications. However, that’s not all. Some students will also take SAT subject tests; this costs $26 for up to three subject tests. Each additional test will set you back $22. Any of the SATs can be taken several times to try to improve the score, so it can add up.
How You Can Save: Register before the deadline and don’t miss the test date. Kids from lower-income households may qualify for a fee waiver. A student counselor can help you determine qualification.
The Costs: The ACT costs $68 with the written portion or $52 without. It includes scores for you, up to four colleges, as well your high school, and a $16 fee is charged if your student is absent from the test.
How You Can Save: Some schools don’t require the ACT, and some have been moving away from the SATs as well. Therefore, before you bear the expense of sending your scores to a school, make sure it accepts them. Like the SATs, register on time and don’t miss the test. Waivers are offered for those who qualify.
The Costs: Some kids will take the time to prepare and study for the SATs and ACTs while others may need more guidance. Tutors offer help with strategies on how to get a better score as well as help with studying the material that’ll appear on the test. Tutors can cost from $50 an hour to over $100 an hour.
How You Can Save: Look online for free test prep courses in areas where your student needs help. You may be able to find paid online courses that will give your student individual attention, and it may be cheaper than a local tutor.
The Costs: A study of more than 900 colleges by U.S. News & World Report found that the average application fee for 2016 was $43, but some, like Stanford, were as high as $90. Application fees are non-refundable. Therefore, if your student doesn’t gain acceptance or doesn’t choose that school, then you don’t get your money back.
How You Can Save: Some schools offer application fee waivers for students of lower-income households. You can also save by researching schools carefully before applying. Don’t merely look at academic programs; look at campus life, extra-curricular activities offered, the school’s proximity to towns or cities, school ranking, and costs. If you can narrow down the number of schools to apply to, you can cut down on application fees (and fees for sending them test scores and FAFSAs, too). Don’t limit the number of schools too much; however, it’s important to have enough choices. Applying to 5-8 schools will still give your student options.
Be realistic with the schools your student applies to. Most schools will give statistics on GPAs and test scores that they expect most of their students to meet. Be realistic with tuition costs as well. Some schools will be out of your price range, but if your child has good grades and you qualify for financial assistance, schools may offer scholarships to make their campus more affordable. Each college you apply to will send out a financial aid offer along with or shortly following the letter of acceptance, so you can have a realistic cost before you make your final decision.
The Costs: There’s no cost to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The FAFSA is accepted by most schools as a financial aid application, so you don’t have to fill out a different one for each school. Even if you’re unsure whether you’d qualify for assistance, the FAFSA helps schools determine how much aid to offer upfront, which could save a lot of money. There’s a cost for sending the form to schools: $25 for one school and $16 for every additional school. Schools require that the FAFSA come directly from its source, so you can’t send a copy to the school to save money.
How You Can Save: Be sure that your student will be applying to a school before you spend the money on sending your FAFSA there. This is an easy way to avoid college application fees.
The Costs: If possible, it’s important to visit all the colleges your student wants to attend. In all likelihood, your child will be spending four years living there, so you’ll want to make sure it’s someplace your child will be happy and safe. Depending upon the location of the schools, it could cost a lot of money for flights, hotels, gas, and food.
How You Can Save: Plan your visits in one long period rather than a bunch of trips. You could wait for acceptance before visiting a school, but an in-person visit on a college campus is a good way to narrow down the schools to which your child wants to apply. When you set up the appointment for your college tour, ask about staying on campus. Some schools will let you stay on campus free or cheaply during your visit, so you can get a good feel of what the school is all about.
Preparing for college is an exciting time for both parents and students. By understanding upcoming costs, you can avoid some of the fees and make better decisions with the fees you may have to pay. A little research and knowledge of upfront costs will save you a lot of money while you help your child find his or her dream school. Of course, once those application fees are figured out, make sure you know how actually paying for college works too!