College admissions officers want you to fall in love with their school—and preferably apply early.  For some college-bound families, and hopeful admissions officers, this means Early Decision, a commitment to the one and only “school of your dreams.” But for most this means Early Action, a chance to get an earlier “yes” or “no” as well as more time to consider which college is “it.”

Suppose your family is in love with the idea of applying to Princeton, where your student is not likely to need to take out a loan. This makes Early Decision an attractive opportunity. The academics are in order, the willingness to write good essays is there. The prospective Tiger has a good story to tell that will get the admissions officers who read the application to give the good word in committee.

What are the costs of getting the love?

Princeton makes a nice brochure that tells you what to do. In this brochure you find out that Princeton requires an application fee, SAT or ACT scores as well as two SAT Subject Tests. Your student has most likely taken the ACT or SAT during the junior year, but has not sent the score report to colleges yet; the same is true for the two SAT Subject Tests as well as any scores from Advanced Placement exams.

Here are some of the costs to apply to Princeton:

  • Application fee paid to Princeton: $65
  • Senior Year SAT Registration Fee: $54.50
  • Senior Year ACT With Writing Registration Fee: $56.50
  • SAT Subject Tests (if taking them for the first time): $52, or $26 per test
  • SAT Subject Test Score Reports (if your student took the tests earlier): $62, or $31 per test.

The registration fees for the SAT, the ACT and the Subject Tests include up to four score reports; you can apply to up to three other schools besides Princeton for no additional fee.

Using the above information, a family will pay between $171.50 and $183.50 for the privilege of applying Early Decision to Princeton. Keeping to the four score reports allowed by the test providers, your family will probably spend an additional $200, maybe a little more, to apply to three more schools. This does not include the costs to visit the schools, which you must do to raise your chances of getting in.

Applying to four schools, with Princeton as the Early Decision option, is not so bad cost wise, depending on the other three schools you consider. Let’s say Princeton is the hope, the dream, but you need to become more ground in reality. The home state university is always an option. But would that be your second to fourth choice? For students who consider a school such as Princeton, the answer would likely be “no.”

Buy a paper copy of the latest U.S. News Best Colleges Guide. While vilified, it is a useful source to compare schools across a small number of pages. Our Princeton applicant might also like Brown, Johns Hopkins and Tufts. No losers in that bunch. But Brown takes less than 10 percent of those who apply. Johns Hopkins and Tufts took less than 20 percent. The college admissions officers at these school, like those who work at Princeton, are rigorous at riveting applicants. So, you cast a wider net on the college admissions circuit. Eight schools will cost your family over a thousand bucks. Just to apply.

Suppose your student gets into Princeton through Early Decision. All other applications are withdrawn, unless a “lesser” school, like your home state university, came in with an offer that your family could not refuse. The price of getting into Princeton was not just the costs of applying to Princeton. It was also the fees that you paid to hedge your bets if Princeton said “no,” or elected to defer.

With admission to Princeton and the like, eight schools is a fair number of choices. Less would be better. You would have spend less to hedge your bets in the college admissions process. Not to mention that its hard to fall in love with more than two or three schools, and do the work to get their admissions officers to love you back. To apply to more than eight is simply insane.





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