PRE College Expenses Will Surprise You

Getting a student ready to go to college will surprise you financially. While most families focus on saving for tuition, room and board, textbooks, and other actual college related expenses, the pre-college time period also involves expenses that can quickly add up to thousands of dollars and there aren’t scholarships to pay these costs! What costs?

Standardized test fees. Nearly all colleges require incoming freshmen to take at least one standardized test, such as the SAT, ACT, or various AP exams. Costing $15 to 85 to take each test (retakes cost the full amount) the costs can add up quickly. Some students will take a test four times or more in the hopes of getting a better score. Students with demonstrated financial need can qualify for fee waivers or reductions. For more on SAT, and AP fees, see For more on ACT fees, see

Test prep courses and materials. Back when I took the ACT, I woke up one Saturday and went to the testing site and took it. No prep, no study, no tutors. However, most students today prepare to take standardized tests by using some form of test prep, which ranges from books ($20 to 50 each) to private tutoring ($50 to 100 per hour and up) to taking an entire test prep course ($500 to 3,000 and up).

Application fees. Virtually all colleges charge a nonrefundable application fee of $50–250. Even the 150 schools that use the Common Application (a standardized application form) still require that you pay an application fee for each separate school applied to. Not all schools charge application fees, and again, some students with demonstrated financial need can qualify for fee waivers. For a list of schools that accept fee waivers, or that don’t charge fees, search for “fee waivers” on

Campus visits. Ah, the college visit. Students generally visit each college or university to which they plan to apply in order to “get a feel” for the school. These visits, which usually take place during the junior or senior year of high school, might include hotel, food, and gas or airfare expenses (though the actual campus tours that colleges conduct usually are free). Don’t forget the obligatory trip to the campus bookstore to buy a t-shirt. Expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars per campus visit.

Tuition deposits. I never had to pay a tuition deposit but they’re becoming more common. You can expect to pay a fee of $100 to 2,000 or more to guarantee your student’s spot at any college which which accepts him or her. In the best-case scenario, the student will be admitted to at least one school and will choose one to attend and, you’ll pay just one deposit with the school crediting the amount you pay against tuition once the student enrolls. In the worst-case scenario, your student will be accepted to some schools but remain on the waiting list at others. In that case, you may end up having to pay several nonrefundable tuition deposits at once, only one of which will be credited against your student’s actual tuition.

Moving. Most parents manage to move their kids to college by packing up the car and driving to the school. In this case, expect to spend money on gas, food, and maybe an overnight stay. If air travel is involved, though, you’ll have to pay for plane tickets and shipping costs, which may add several thousand dollars, depending on the distance, number of travelers, etc.

Personal expenses. This category includes all the expenses you’ll face to get your child set up at college such as furniture, clothes, a computer, bed linens, and more. Though you’ll likely be able to bring some of these items from home, you should still expect to spend at least another $500 to 1,000 on personal expenses before college starts.

The final tally will vary considerably based on the number of schools to which your child applies, the distance from your home to the school, what items he or she can take from home, and so on. Altogether, though, you can expect to spend roughly $1,000 to 5,000 on pre-college costs alone. And that’s before he or she has even taken one class!

Shocking isn’t it?

Note: Only Coverdell Education Savings Accounts—not 529 plans—can be used to pay for pre-college costs.

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