How Much Does It Cost to Apply to College?

Tuition keeps increasing, and even applying to college comes at a cost. Find average application fees for colleges in our report.
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Chloe Appleby
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Chloe Appleby is an associate writer for BestColleges. She contributes to both the News and Data teams, writing both higher education news stories and data reports for the site. She graduated from Davidson College with a BA in English and communicati...
Published on July 27, 2023
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Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and data writer for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evaluati...
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Data Summary

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    For U.S. students, the average undergraduate application fee is $56. Graduate programs charge $66 per application on average.
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    International students pay about $4 more per undergraduate application and $8 more per graduate application on average than U.S. learners.
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    In 2022-2023, students who used the Common App applied to an average of 5.7 colleges and universities each.[1]
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    Taking the SAT or ACT costs students between $60 and $103 per test and can get pricier with additional fees and test prep.[2], [3], [4]

Going to college is a massive investment. So large, in fact, that 62% of people we surveyed believe the financial challenges that come with earning a degree make college inaccessible. What's more, these high costs can start before you've even been accepted into your dream school.

The money students spend on college applications, standardized tests and test prep, college advisors, and more varies greatly. But one thing is for certain: Applying to college can become very expensive, very quickly.

So, how much does it really cost to apply to college?

Application Fees for Colleges

Before pressing submit on your college applications, you could be prompted to pay an application fee. Application fees vary depending on the university, program, and degree level.

At face value, the application fee for just one college might not seem too daunting to pay. However, according to the Common App, applicants applied to 5.7 different colleges each on average during the 2022-2023 application process, so the fees can add up quickly.Note Reference [1]

Behind the Numbers

In this report, we used the following data:

  • For in-person programs, we calculated the average cost of undergraduate application fees from a list of 109 different colleges, including the largest universities in each state, Ivy-Plus universities, and Black Ivy League universities.
  • For online programs, we found the cost of applying to each of Best College's top accredited online colleges.

College Application Fees for Undergraduates

  • The average student from the United States dishes out $56 per college application. The costs range from $0 at the University of Maine all the way to $90 for Stanford's application.[5], [6]
  • If a student applies to between five and six schools, they will likely pay $280-$336 on application fees alone.
  • Applying to public universities is slightly cheaper than applying to private institutions. On average, it costs $53 to apply to a public college and $67 to apply to a private college as a United States citizen.
  • Applying to an Ivy League school is even pricier at about $76 per application.
  • For international students, applying to college costs even more. On average, students from outside of the U.S. pay $60 per undergraduate application, $4 more than domestic students per application.

College Application Fees for Graduate Students

On average, graduate schools charge U.S. students $66 per application. They charge international students $74.

Prices range widely. For example, Clemson University's application is free. An application to UCLA, on the other hand, costs $135.[7], [8]

International students, on average, pay $8 more per application than domestic students. At some institutions, the difference in price is much greater. At Utah Valley University, international students are charged $100 more than students from the United States.[9]

Online Program Application Fees

Online programs tend to charge less for each application fee. On average, online programs charge $44 for an undergraduate application and $55 for a graduate application. Even still, a few programs charge applicants over $50 to apply.

Application Fees for Top Online Colleges
School Undergraduate Application Fee Graduate Application Fee
Northeastern University Lifelong Learning Network $0 $75
Florida Institute of Technology, Online $0 $0
University of Florida $30 $30
University of Central Florida $30 $31
Florida International University $30 $30
University of North Dakota $35 $35
Golden Gate University $40 $65
Oklahoma State University $40 $50
Kansas State University $40 $65
The University of Alabama $40 $65
Thomas Jefferson University $50 $50
Thomas Edison State University $50 $50
Bellevue University $50 $75
University of Missouri $55 $75
Pennsylvania State University, World Campus $65 $65
Oregon State University $65 $65
University of Arizona $65 $65
Washington State University $70 $70
East Carolina University $75 $75

Did You Know...

There are several ways to save when going through the college application process.

To start, many colleges — more than 100 of them, in fact — opt out of charging applicants altogether.

Also, many colleges offer fee waivers for low-income students and students who are also applying for the FAFSA or the university's financial aid. Be sure to also look out for "fee-free" periods in your state when application fees are waived for students applying to public colleges and universities.

For students interested in applying to several historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), a more affordable option is the Common Black College Application, which costs a one-time fee of $20 and is accepted by 67 HBCUs.

Standardized Testing Fees

Last year, over 1.7 million high schoolers took the SAT, roughly 1.3 million took the ACT, and just under 350,000 people took the GRE. All those testing fees add up. It costs $60-$220 just to take a single standardized test. Students should also factor in additional fees, including fees for the test center and for additional score reports.

SAT Fees
Full SAT $60
SAT International Student Testing Fee $103
Additional Score Report $14/report
Additional Fees (registration fees, service fees, etc.) $15-55
Source: College Board[10]
ACT Fees
Full ACT $66
Full ACT With Writing $93
Additional score reports $18/report
Additional Fees $18-$110
Source: ACTNote Reference [3]
GRE Fees
GRE Registration Fee $220
Rescheduling Fee $50
Test Center Change $50
Note: If taken in China, the registration fee for the GRE is $231.31.
Source: ETSNote Reference [4]

Luckily, the SAT and ACT offer testing fee waivers for some 11th and 12th graders, including those who:

  • Are enrolled in or eligible for federal free or reduced-price lunch programs at school.
  • Are enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that aids students from low-income families.
  • Reside in foster homes, are wards of the state, or are experiencing homelessness.
  • Receive public assistance or live in federally subsidized public housing.[11], [12]

Additionally, over 1,700 U.S. four-year colleges and universities, including all Ivy League institutions, and a growing number of master's degree programs have switched over to test-optional, test-flexible, or even test-free admissions policies.

The Cost of College Test Prep

Standardized tests are not just expensive to take, but also expensive to prepare for.

We rounded up the average cost of study guides and textbooks, online programs, and one-on-one tutoring offered by the top five best test-prep companies, including The Princeton Review, Kaplan, Testive, Magoosh, and Prep Scholar.

A single student could spend thousands of dollars on test prep alone. For example, if a student studied for 20 hours with a one-on-one SAT tutor, they could spend up to $5,000.

SAT Test Prep Costs
Type Cost
Study Guides/Textbooks $0-$35
Online Programs $99-$1,899
One-on-One Tutoring $150-$250/hour
Sources: BestColleges analysis
ACT Test Prep Costs
Type Cost
Study Guides/Textbooks $0-$76
Online Programs $99-$1,899
One-on-One Tutoring $130-$250/hour
Sources: BestColleges analysis
GRE Test Prep Costs
Type Cost
Study Guides/Textbooks $0-$70
Online Programs $38-$2,099
One-on-One Tutoring $160-$230/hour
Sources: BestColleges analysis

Did You Know...

Standardized test scores tend to correlate with family income.

Even though the SAT, ACT, GRE, and even some of the top test-prep companies offer introductory study guides free of charge, students from low-income families are still at a disadvantage when it comes to test prep and ultimately getting high test scores.

According to the College Board, test takers from families who earn less than $51,500 scored the lowest on the SAT, while test takers from families making greater than $110,000 received the highest total SAT scores.[13]

Critics debate the future of standardized testing in college admissions, saying the test puts low-income, Black, Latino/a, and Native American students at a disadvantage in the college admissions process.

Additional Costs for Applying to College

Nearly all post-secondary institutions require a high school transcript during the application process.[14] Depending on the high school you attended, you might get charged a small fee per transcript from the school or a third-party site.

Beyond application and testing fees, future college students might opt into spending supplemental funds to increase their chances of getting into their dream school, including:

  • College essay tutoring
  • College entrance coaching and advising
  • Traveling to and from in-person college tours or interviews