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How Much Should I Budget for College Application Fees?

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If your child is about to be college age, it’s likely you’ve been thinking about how to pay and budget for college.

But there’s an extra expense that comes before the first day of freshman year that is important to include in your overall budget: college application fees.

An application fee is the cost a college charges to review a student’s application for admittance. The average college application fee costs $43, with the most common cost being $50. However, some colleges do charge as much as $100.

A recent study showed that 35 percent of high school seniors applied to seven colleges or more. At a rate of the average $43 fee, that’s $301 just in application fees. The application fees are also generally nonrefundable, regardless if the college admits you or not.

So How Much Should I Budget for Application Fees?

How much to budget for application fees depends on how many schools your child wants to apply to and the cost each of those schools charge to apply.

You’ll want to stay organized and do some research. Once your child approaches sophomore and junior year of high school, make a list of their top 10 colleges. Then, go online to each school’s website to see the application fee for the current school year. This will give you an idea of what to expect.

Then, add up the fees. To be on the safe side, add $5 to $10 to each fee in case the price goes up by the time your child is a senior. Look at this total cost and decide what you can actually afford, then discuss this as a family and adjust how many, or which schools, your child will apply to accordingly.

A few schools actually don’t charge any application fee, making them more affordable to apply to than others.

You’ll also want to look into if there are application deadlines. By submitting the application early, some schools reduce the fee. If there’s a late fee for submitting an application after the deadline, you’ll want to be aware of that, too.

You may be hoping there’s a method to how much certain schools charge for their application fee. But there’s no evidence that college rank or public versus private status affects the cost of the application fee, so only research will help you know what to expect.

Can I Apply for a Waiver?

If you’re worried about affording the cost of the application fees, you can apply for an application fee waiver at more than 2,000 colleges. You will have to apply on a school-by-school basis, and not all schools will accept a waiver.

You’ll be able to apply for an application fee waiver if you fit one of the following criteria:

  • You’ve already submitted and were granted an SAT or ACT fee waiver request.

  • If you receive government assistance or live in subsidized housing

  • If the incoming freshman is a foster child or an orphan

  • If you can prove paying the fee would cause a financial hardship

It’s best to also research the specific criteria for the schools your student is applying to, as it could vary.  

Research will continue to help you in this process, as some schools require you to submit the application fee waiver before you submit your application. It’s best to know which schools your child plans to apply to require this, ahead of time so you can file the documents in the correct order.

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