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                                Prep for college costs
        Fees start adding up in your child’s junior and senior years in high school


For the Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/07/07

Chris and Cesar Martinez started saving for college when their three children were in elementary school. But like many parents, the Roswell family never considered the costs involved with actually getting into a college.

"We focused on saving for the big-ticket items like tuition and housing," Chris Martinez said. "But there are so many other things that you pay for before they step foot on campus."

 

Pre-college costs, including fees for applications, SAT/ACT tests, campus tours and even sessions with private college counselors can arise during your child’s junior and senior years in high school. "Some of the costs [like application and test fees] are set and unavoidable," Chris Martinez said. "Others [like SAT prep classes] you can shop around for. There are still others you pay for because you think it will help your child not only get into college, but with life."

This fall, David Martinez, a 2007 graduate of Centennial High School, will head to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.; it was one of five colleges that accepted him.

The price tag for his college search topped $4,000. That includes a $300 SAT prep class, $200 for a summer speed-reading course, and about $3,000 for David and his parents to spend five days touring colleges in Colorado. Airfare, car rental, hotels, meals —- and of course, college T-shirts —- were part of the trip.

Looking back, Chris wonders if any of those pre-college expenses could have been cut. "Maybe the SAT CD," she said, laughing. "Nobody liked it."

Families with college-bound students face a mountain of fees. But early preparation can help keep expenses in check. Here are a few items to consider, along with tips for cutting costs:

Applications

Once your child narrows the list of potential colleges down to a manageable number, the real fun begins.

Colleges charge an application processing fee, which can range from $40 to $70, to consider prospective students. The average fee is $50. Students typically apply to about six colleges, according to school counselors.

Cut costs: Application fees may be waived for applicants from low-income families. Students also can apply to 34 historically black colleges and universities —- including Savannah State University and Clark Atlanta University in Georgia —- with one $35 application fee. The online form is available at www.eduinconline.com.

Tests

Most colleges require SAT or ACT scores as part of the application packet. Taking the SAT costs $43. The ACT costs $30, but there is an additional $14.50 fee for the written portion. Along with processing test results, these fees cover mailing student test scores to four colleges. It’s not uncommon for students to take the SAT and ACT more than once, hoping to improve their scores.

Some colleges also require applicants to take two or more SAT subject exams.

It costs an additional fee —- $8.50 for the SAT and $9.50 for the ACT —- to send score reports to additional schools. It also costs extra for changing test dates and viewing scores early.

Cut costs: Narrowing your college list and careful test planning will keep costs down.

Test prep

Test scores carry a lot of weight. To minimize the stress factor, many parents enroll their children in preparation courses. Kaplan Test Prep, the Princeton Review and Studyworks provide SAT preparation tools. In addition to classroom instruction, these companies typically offer online study programs as well as one-on-one or group tutoring sessions.

For example, Kaplan charges $899 for a 12- session classroom program to prepare for the SAT. Working in a small group —- usually three people, plus a tutor —- can cost about $1,500 per student for 20 to 30 hours of instruction.

Cut costs: Occasionally, high schools and public libraries will offer free or reduced-fee classes during the summer, after school or on weekends. Students also can pick up free SAT or ACT practice materials from their schools’ guidance or college centers. Free pointers and practice tests are available on the SAT and ACT Web sites.

Additional information also is available at www.GAcollege411.com, a state-sponsored site.

Tutoring

Tutors can help a student catch up or get ahead in a subject. Tutors, who are often current or former teachers, also can help with SAT prep, college essays and one-on-one instruction in a specialized subject.

"There is a tutor out there for every budget and learning style," said Steven Pines, executive director of the Education Industry Association, a trade group.

The average fee for a tutor is $25 to $55 per hour, Pines said. However, some tutors charge higher fees ($65 to $150 per hour) for specialized subjects, such as calculus.

On the Web, students can get help in various subjects from companies like Sylvan or Tutor.com. TutorVista.com also offers online tutoring, charging $19.99 for a one-hour session or $99 for one month of unlimited access.

To find a tutor, ask for recommendations from other parents and check with your child’s teachers. Many schools keep a current contact list of tutors.

Cut costs: Many schools offer free tutoring. The tutor may be a student in a service club or a teacher who offers special hours for subject help before or after school. To find a tutor, check with the guidance counselor or your student’s subject teachers.

Finding a college

Professional college coaches, also called educational consultants, can help nervous parents —- and their children —- through the process of finding a school. They can assess students’ strengths and interests, then compile a list of potential candidates. Coaches also identify scholarship or financial aid options and assist with applications. Often, consultants are former high school or college admission counselors.

The national average for a consulting package is $2,800, said Mark Sklarow, executive director of the Independent Educational Consultants Association. Locally, Buckhead Educational Consultants in Atlanta charges $2,800 and can begin as early as sophomore year.

College counselors also may charge by the hour or set a fee based on the task. Nationally, the average hourly rate is $130, while fees typically range from $80 to $100 in metro Atlanta.

> The College Counseling Program of Jewish Family & Career Services, a nonsectarian United Way agency, offers families three options: hourly sessions for $80, an interest inventory test and evaluation for $300 or a $1,150 program that includes the testing, evaluation and 12 private sessions with a college counselor.

> For a referral to a private counselor, get recommendations from your school counselor and other parents. Also check with trade groups such as the Independent Educational Consultants Association (www .educationalconsulting .org), the Higher Education Consultants Association (www.hecaonline.org), and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (www.nacacnet.org).

Cut costs: Counselors and high school college centers offer information free about scholarships, college searches and upcoming college fairs. GAcollege411.com also offers information for harried parents.

Campus tours

Colleges don’t require prospective students to visit, but these outings give students exposure to life on campus. Teens also can sign up for structured college tours through companies like South Carolina-based College Visits (www.college-visits.com) or California-based College Campus Tours (www.collegecampustours.com).

Last month, College Campus Tours took teens on a 10-day bus tour of West Coast public and private colleges. The trip cost $2,250, including a workbook, campus tours and hotel stays at the Hilton, Hyatt and Sheraton. Airfare and meals were not included.

College Visits also offers campus tours throughout the year. This month, the company will offer two tours of Northeast colleges. Prices range from $1,485 to $1,985, including meals.

Cut costs: Turn a campus visit into a family vacation. Or take a virtual campus tour without leaving home. Many college Web sites offer online tours. Campustours.com also offers online tours of various schools.