The Cost of Applying to College
A college education is one of the best indications of how much money a person will make in their lifetime. According to a recent Georgetown University Study, the average worker holding only a high school diploma can expect to earn $1.3 million over the course of their lifetime, while the number jumps to $2.27 million for those with a four-year Bachelor’s degree and $2.67 million for those with a Master’s. A Doctoral degree will net you $3.25 million over a lifetime, while a Professional degree averages out to $3.65 million throughout your career.
The lesson here is: education = gettin’ paid.
However, college educations aren’t free. They can require significant investments in both time and money. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual cost of attending a four-year University including room and board (excluding books and other miscellaneous fees) in 2010 was $12,804 for public colleges, and $32,184 for private. That’s a lot of money -- and the cost varies widely across the spectrum of institutions. But prospective students and their parents also need to factor in the costs associated with simply applying to college, which might run you more than you think.
Here’s a breakdown of the cost of college, before college.
Most schools require that students include either SAT or ACT scores with their applications. SAT registration is $49, and $35 for the ACT ($50.50 for the optional writing section, which some colleges require). There’s also the PSAT for students who want a practice run, which will run you $14, though some schools may add in an additional administrative fee. The majority of students take at least one of these tests numerous times.
Each testing body will send test scores to a maximum of four schools for free, but will charge extra to send results to additional schools ($10.50 per additional school for the SAT, $11.00 per additional school for the ACT). Fee waivers are available for families who can’t afford the tests.
Of course, you want to perform well on these tests -- your collegiate future could depend on it. This desire has inspired a nationwide, for-profit SAT Prep industry. One of the biggest national names in prep has been Kaplan Test Prep, which offers a range of services, from a $299 online SAT prep course all the way up to $4,799 program that includes in-person tutoring.
The data from our own merchant recommender finds that the average price consumers paid for these services reaches well into the hundreds of dollars.
A typical student's testing regiment may include the following: enrolling in a $200 test prep session, taking the PSATs once, the SATs twice, and applying to six colleges. In this typical example, just the testing part was $334.
Now comes the hard part -- applying to schools. The first step is to choose which schools are worth your time, energy, and money. And you’ll want to throw in a good mix before settling on a final decision: reach schools, safety schools, state schools, specialty schools, etc.
The good news is there’s a wealth of free information on the Internet or via your school’s student counselor. In addition, there are numerous books listing colleges, which will run anywhere between $10 and $20. But if you want some extra help, you can hire a private college prep course such as Applywise, which offers programs to help with everything from college selection to college application help. They offer one program aimed at high school juniors that costs $169, and one geared towards juniors and seniors for $299.
Of course, you'll want to visit the college where you will be spending the next few years of your life. Not only do you want the academics to be on point, you want the right vibe on campus and in the surrounding area. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, a slight majority of students (53%) attend a college within 100 miles of where they grew up, while 86% attend college within 500 miles of where they grew up. A 500-mile trip can be within one day’s driving, but will probably require an overnight visit to make it practical (so budget for a place to stay for students and possibly parents). Exploring areas distant from where you grew up is a wonderful opportunity, but be sure to plan an on-site visit for the far away colleges that seem to be really worth it. Find your best college tour hotel choices.
And then there are the actual costs of applying to schools. According to U.S. News & World Report, the average application fee was $37.64. The award for the most expensive fee in the survey goes to George Mason University in Virginia, where the application fee is $100. Most schools offer a waiver for students of limited means, however, if we take the above typical example of a student who applied to six schools, he or she could expect to pay around $225.84 total.
So, before that first check is written to your chosen institution of higher learning, students can expect to pay approximately a grand just to get there. If the current Federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour (the rate often given to after-school jobs), a student may need to work around 140 hours just to cover those initial fees (or more, depending on state and local taxes and possible Union fees).
The college application process may sound somewhat daunting, but we have some encouraging data, too! According to the 2011 State of College Admissions survey, schools accepted, on average 65.5% of all applicants. If you’ve laid the proper groundwork in high school and apply to multiple schools, the numbers are on your side that you will get in somewhere.
So, stop worrying about life after high school, and remember to breathe. Relax. Take one step at a time and your life’s path with make itself known.