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Candice Choi

You don’t have to go broke trying to get your child into a good college

September 18, 2009

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Before worrying about college tuition, there’s the small matter of getting your child into a school. It’s a process that can sap you of thousands of dollars, especially if you’re booking hotel rooms and plane tickets to visit campuses. “It’s costing a fortune,’’ said Elaine Dickinson of Albany, N.Y., who visited several schools this summer with daughter Kate, 17.

Like other parents, Dickinson considers the costs necessary. As you ramp up the process in coming months, here’s how you can tackle three major costs.

TEST FEES: The National School Lunch Program provided free or low-cost lunches to more than 30 million children last year. If your child was among them, your family could also be eligible for an SAT fee waiver. Guidance counselors can tell you about the guidelines. Standard SAT registration costs $45.

Otherwise, knowing the test schedules and deadlines will help you avoid paying extra. With the SAT there’s a $23 fee for late registration and a $22 fee to change when or where you take the test.

A little planning can also help prevent the need to have scores rushed to a school. The option costs $27 plus $9.50 for each SAT report. Doris Davis, associate provost for admissions and enrollment at Cornell University, suggests calling schools to ask if a rush is necessary.

APPLICATIONS: It typically costs around $60 to apply. So if your child applies to 10 schools, that’s $600. Carefully weigh the chances that your child will end up at a particular school.

“The biggest way families can save is to research and be realistic,’’ said Peter Mazareas of the College Savings Foundation. Often, he said, students apply to schools they wouldn’t attend or have little chance of getting into. That said, your child should apply to at least one or two “reach’’ schools, as well as a couple fallback and safety schools.

Once you’ve tightened the list of schools, look into whether you can get application fees waived. You’re eligible for up to four requests to waive application fees if you qualify for the SAT fee waiver. Colleges may also accept letters from your guidance counselor stating that the fee would pose a hardship. You might be also bypass the fee if the college is courting your child for academic or athletic reasons.

CAMPUS VISITS: Take virtual tours. Sites like YOUniversityTV.com, CampusTours.com, and eCampusTours.com offer free guides on hundreds of universities. While you’re online, be sure to check the school’s academic and student life pages. You might learn something that helps decide whether it is worth a trip.

Of course, you’ll want to visit in person if there’s a good chance your child could end up there. But even then, there are ways to save. Alumni groups often sponsor bus trips. You can find about such programs by contacting the school’s admissions office, or asking your child’s guidance counselor. Otherwise, try to make visits part of a family trip.

Candice Choi writes for the Associated Press.