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How Much Do College Applications Cost?

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Some of the most expensive colleges and universities have tuition and fee costs of more than $63,000. This sticker price doesn’t even incorporate the cost of room and board, books, and application fees.

When it comes to the cost of college, you might think that application fees are the least of your worries. After all, how much could each school possibly charge per application?

Unfortunately, you might be surprised by the answer to “how much do college applications cost?” On top of that, there are additional fees to consider when applying that aren’t factored into the application fee.

Let’s take a look at the cost of applying for college to help you budget your application strategy.


When you pay to apply to a college, the fee isn’t refundable. This means that you won’t get the money back if you are rejected from the school or if you decide to go elsewhere.

The average cost of a college application is between $25 and $90. One survey conducted by U.S. News & World Report found that $38.39 was the average fee for students in 2013. This represents an 8% increase since 2007.

When U.S. News & World Report conducted a similar survey in 2020, they found that the average cost of applications was $43. In this same study, they found that the schools that charge the highest fees had an average cost of $78. Two schools even charged at least $100: the University of California San Diego and Arkansas Baptist College.

National Universities are more likely to charge high application fees. This is because they are usually researched-focused institutions. At these schools, there are many majors to choose from and advanced degrees to pursue.

Some of the schools that had the highest fees are considered to be some of the best universities in the country. These include:

  • Harvard: $75
  • Columbia: $85
  • MIT: $75
  • Yale: $80
  • Stanford: $90
  • The University of Chicago: $75
  • The University of Pennsylvania: $75
  • The California Institute of Technology: $75
  • Northwestern University: $75

There are also many smaller liberal art schools that charge steep application fee costs. For example, Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire charges $80 to apply.

The average student applies to 8-12 colleges. This means that depending on which schools you apply to, you can end up spending several hundred if not more than $1000 just applying for college.

The College Board recommends that students apply to five to eight schools. Based on the average cost of $44, this means that the average total cost ranges from $200 to $400. This doesn’t even include additional expenses such as sending standardized test results or sending transcripts.


When you start applying for college, you’ll quickly learn that there are a lot of different costs to take into account. You don’t want to overlook these costs so you don’t accidentally go over budget.

One of the fees you’ll need to consider is the cost of having your high school transcript sent to colleges. Some schools will provide this service for free. Others, though, will only do so at a cost.

There might be a small fee for sending transcripts to out-of-state schools as well. If you’re wondering how much it will cost to send transcripts to your colleges, talk to your district registrar’s office or your high school guidance counseling department.

Additionally, it will cost most to have your standardized test scores sent to schools. You receive four free score reports when you register for the SAT exam. However, additional reports cost $12 each.

You also might need to send additional materials to the schools you are applying to. For example, an art and design program might require work samples or portfolios. It will be up to you to both prepare and mail those items.

Depending on the type of materials and the number of items, this cost can vary considerably.


As you can see, it costs money to have your standardized test results and transcripts sent to each school you’re applying to.

Beyond this, there are also costs to taking standardized tests. It costs between 50 and 70 dollars to take the SATs. It also costs money to take subject and language SAT tests.

Taking the General ACT test takes more than $50. To take the ACT with writing test you will be charged nearly $70.


Understanding the different costs and fees of applying for and attending college can make your head spin. Let’s take a look at a quick breakdown of the cost to get a degree.


Applying for college costs money. This is likely the first introduction you will have to the cost of college. While application fees can seem minuscule in comparison to tuition, it’s a good idea to create a strict budget for your application process and stick to it.


Most colleges and universities are going to want to see your SAT or ACT scores. These tests cost money and then it costs additional money to have them sent to your prospective schools.

It also might cost money to have your transcripts sent from your high school to the schools you’re applying to.


This is the price you typically come across when people talk about the cost of college. This is the money you put towards your actual education in the form of credits. The average college tuition is about $36,000, but it can vary widely from this number.


Some students might choose to live in campus housing, while others might rent their own apartment or live at home. No matter where you live, you’ll have to factor the cost of housing into your budget. You’ll also need to consider the cost of housing during the summer and during breaks, as college housing is often only for the academic year.


The “board” part of room and board refers to the cost of food. You might choose to purchase a meal plan from your school or buy and cook your own food. It is usually cheaper to prepare meals for yourself rather than signing up for a meal plan.


There will be additional academic costs for attending college. These come in to form of paying for textbooks and “learning fees.”


You’ll also need to think of the cost of transportation when you’re applying to school. You may or may not need to commute to school depending on your situation. If you choose to bring a car to school, you’ll have to think about gas, maintenance, and parking expenses.

Other potential costs include paying for public transportation or rideshare services.

Lastly, you’ll want to think about the cost of traveling during your school breaks. Most students in the U.S. attend schools that aren’t in their home state. This means you’ll want to think about the cost of gas or plane tickets for summers and other holiday breaks.


Participating in extracurricular activities can also cost money. If you join one of the countless student organizations at your school, there will likely be associated fees and costs.


Many students choose to join a Greek organization while at school. There are benefits to doing so, as it can help you connect with other people on campus as well as build a strong network. However, there are registration fees and dues that can get pretty pricey if you go this route.


Whether you join honor societies or business networks, there will likely be fees associated with pre-professional societies. You’ll want to weigh out the cost-benefit of these organizations before joining.


Whether you play on intramural teams, club teams, or are a high-level athlete, there are costs that come along with playing sports. The most affordable way to play sports in college is to join an intramural team.


Many students choose to spend a semester, a summer, or a year abroad. This can come with additional costs or it can actually be cheaper than your normal education costs. You’ll want to consider how much it will cost to study abroad before applying.


Since each application is likely going to be pricey, you want to make sure you make it count. You will want to maximize the likelihood that you will get into the schools you apply to.

When you are filling out applications, it can be good to keep your message simple. At the same time, though, you want to highlight things that make you stand out. Hashing out how your achievements, extracurriculars, and activities will help you reach your future goals is also important.


As you can see, you’ll want to be considerate of how much money you spend on application fees. Applying for college is a good initial introduction to just how expensive the process of going to college is. In order to avoid spending exorbitant amounts of money, you will want to be mindful to keep your costs down.

You can do this in a number of different ways.


Some people’s strategy to apply to college is casting a wide net. While this can leave you with many options in the end, it can also be incredibly expensive.

A basic rule of thumb is to apply to schools that range in selectivity. You will want to apply mostly to schools that will likely accept you. However, it’s often recommended to also apply for a few schools that are a bit of a stretch as well.


Many schools are willing to waive the application fee if you can demonstrate that your family needs financial assistance. If you believe that you can get your fee waived for financial reasons, talk to your high school guidance counselor. They will be able to help you fill out the “Request for Admission Application Fee Waiver” form from the National Association for College Admission Counseling.


A number of colleges offer free or reduced application fees to people who apply online. This is because it reduces the administrative costs for the school when people apply online. On top of that, it’s also a lot more convenient and faster for you to apply online than it is to apply through the mail.


Going to college is getting more and more expensive every year. Many students are reasonably concerned about taking on tons of debt in pursuit of their degrees. However, it’s possible to make college more affordable through a number of different strategies.

When you start the college search process, you likely find yourself with a long list of questions.

How much do college applications cost? Can I get work-study or scholarships to help pay for my schooling? Do grants have to be repaid?

At College Budget, we are here to help you figure out the best way to pay for your school. Additionally, we provide resources to help you in every step of your college and university journey.

Going to college can set you up for a career that you find meaningful and that provides you with the resources you need in life. However, many students don’t realize what it’s really like to be riddled with tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars worth of debt. With careful planning and some strategy, you can find ways to get an education without breaking the bank.

If it’s time for you to apply for college, learn more here

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