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Cost of college: What parents and students can expect to pay for admission

Posted at 4:50 PM, Mar 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-15 20:29:43-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The college admissions bribery scandal has parents and students outraged at the possibility of elite access to America’s top universities that would bypass an increasingly competitive application process.

The alleged bribes reflect the growing cost of ensuring students have their pick of higher education. As a teen advances through high school, the costs mount from college prep, tests, application fees, and social events associated with the milestone of graduation.

For families in San Diego, where the median income for a family of four is $63,400 according to the city's website, many of these options are not financially viable. Families who can afford the basic admissions costs and key senior year extras are looking at an investment of roughly $4,300.

10News broke down the expenses associated with college preparation through senior year to see what it takes to gain admission.


Preparing for college can start while children are in middle school and kick into high gear when students reach high school.

Multiple companies offer college prep, including tutoring and full-service counseling. Prices can range from about $1,000 into six figures for assistance through four years of high school.

Kaplan offers a variety of options including tutoring starting at $2099 and live online learning with an expert for $649 (at time of publication). The Princeton Review’s website indicates its ‘most popular’ choice for students is a course called SAT 1400+ for about $1,400. Students will earn a score about 1400 in two months, the website indicates.

Parents who choose to invest in these programs can look for discounts on company websites depending on the time of year.

A free alternative is Khan Academy, a nonprofit which offers videos, study drills, and a personalized learning dashboard across a variety of subjects.


The testing process opens sophomore year when students are allowed to take the PSAT. There are two different tests in spring and fall which cost students $16 if the schools don’t pay. The test is used by the National Merit Scholarship program to find eligible students. Those who earn high scores receive recognition on college applications and possibly, scholarships.

High school seniors are usually required to complete the SAT to be considered for admission to college. Each test costs $47.50, and the test with the essay is $64.50. Fee waivers are available for low-income students. There is no limit to the number of times seniors can take the test, but only the most recent six scores stay on file. High scores are a top priority for college admissions counselors.

The ACT, which many universities do not require, has a fee of $58.50 with the Writing section and $49.50 without Writing.


A senior who wants a wide range of options for universities may wish to apply to multiple schools, which means more application fees and a more significant financial burden on families. Although many universities offer fee waivers, they are usually limited to low-income students.

The University of California had an application fee of $70 per campus for the 2018-2019 school year, making the popular choices of UC San Diego, Berkeley, UCLA, and UC Santa Barbara a significant investment.

California State University allows students to submit one application for its colleges, with a $55 fee for each college. The University of San Diego also had a $55 fee.

While public universities may seem expensive, private schools may cost more. According to U.S. News and World Report, Stanford University had the highest application fee in the nation at $90.


Before your student makes a decision, he or she might want to travel to campus. Day trips can be inexpensive but visiting colleges far from home can involve flights, hotel rooms, and a bigger food budget.

After the admissions pour in, parents can expect to pay a retainer to secure a student’s spot at the college of their choice. That can be hundreds of dollars, in the case of SDSU.

Other senior year expenses can include a cap and gown ($25) and a yearbook (up to $100). Prom can be a financial burden with the average cost at about $900, according to That trip to Disneyland for Grad Nite is also pricey. Tickets start at $79 and don’t include food, transportation, hotels, and souvenirs.