Preparation is Key to Success, so Create a Pre-College Budget
After talking with the College Guidance Counselor at your kid’s high school, your head is swirling with all these things you didn’t think about before about preparing for college: College visits, the number of colleges the average student applies for, fees for college applications, test prep classes, fees to send test scores to colleges, admit days, and more. Other than the mentioning median cost of college application was a whopping $50 and the fee for sending SAT scores to colleges is $12 a pop for colleges 5, 6, or more (that is after the almost $50 registration fee), the College Guidance Counselor didn’t mention the costs. But you did.
Take a breath and know walk through what each of these pre-college costs are to then plan for the costs. For some items, the costs are fixed like college application fees and test fees if you can’t qualify for fee waivers. For others like college visits, the cost will range from a bus ticket across town one afternoon to involving airfares, hotel nights, and meals for your kid and/or you.
College application fees range from $25 to $90 according to U.S. News & World Report's. The average kid applies to 6 number of colleges according to the Cappex College Admissions Counseling Survey. Your kid may not be average so have a frank conversation so you can agree on the maximum number of colleges that they will apply to.
Financial aid applications are free – right? Well maybe not. Every college who gives federal aid requires the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. However, some colleges (mainly private ones) use the CSS Profile which cost $25 for the first college and $16 for each additional one.
Scholarship application costs may have some hidden costs. Typically scholarships that have $5 to $50 fees are scams. For most for legit scholarships, this is just the cost of time to complete the online application. However, there are some that may require that you send a sample oil painting or puppet or mail in a 10 page application to a physical address. Although this may not be large dollars, don’t forget to budget for mailing costs.
Test and Prep Costs
ACT fee is $52 and includes the cost of sending the test to score to 4 colleges. For an additional $13, you can send the score each additional college.
The SAT also includes sending to 4 colleges in the $49.50 fee for any schools that you indicate between registration and nine days after your test date. It’s an additional $11.25 each college beyond the original group of four.
Test Prep Classes can range from $10 to $1,000 (or more) depending on whether the experience is self-study by a book, online courses, a single day group workshop, 5-week instructor led classes, to one-on-one tutoring.
College Visits Costs
Day trips: Depending on the number of colleges, some may not feel they need to budget this in because you feel your gas budget can already handle this. It may just need to be more about just finding a time on your schedule. If the day trip includes a 3-hour journey just to get to the campus, remember that according to AAA that average cost to fill a 10-gallon tank of $25.71 in September 2019. Of course, you have a better gauge of how much your gas is going to cost based on your car’s mileage. So, calculate and think about ways to reduce the cost even further by sharing the costs with other families wanting to visit the same campus or timing the visit when you are already heading in that general direction for another activity.
By car including overnights: So, we already talked about thinking of the cost for gas. Now we must add the cost of hotel stays, meals, and possible costs for campus activities like tickets to the football game or production of a student directed play. Some families create college tour trips that are combined with something fun like visiting your neighbor who moved away, sunning at the beach while reading a book, or riding the newest roller coasters at an amusement park. If you are budgeting, decide which of these expenses should be grouped in the pre-college budget vs. your entertainment budget.
Flying including overnights: With the average ticket price for a domestic airfare costing $353 according to US Bureau of Transportation in the first quarter of 2019. Plus, the average hotel costs may range from $132 in March according to Statista. Of course, it all really depending on where you are located and where you are going. Booking early can save you a ton. Think about whether you need a rental car or can get away with using rideshare services like Lyft or Uber or even public transportation. Don’t forget the cost of filling up the tank for the car rental, your meals and other activities.
Paid tours: There is a boutique industry that specializes in taking groups of kids on college tours. Some range from one day group tours, to weekend journeys by bus, to coordinating weeklong journeys with airfares includes. With so much variety, the costs can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Colleen MacDonald Krumwiede is a financial aid expert with over a decade of financial aid experience at Stanford GSB, Caltech, and Pomona College and another decade at educational finance and technology companies servicing higher education. She guides go-to-market strategy and product development at Quatromoney to transform the way families afford college.