As people say, it’s often the little things in life that drive us crazy. For many college applicants (and their parents!), one of those infuriating little things is trying to figure out exactly what standardized testing is going to cost.

It’s not an idle question. If you make enough of the wrong moves, a single SAT score report could wind up costing you over $200.* That may not be much money compared to other educational costs, but it’s certainly a sum you could put to better – and more satisfying – use.

Here are some tips to help you make sure you get your money’s worth from your standardized testing fees:

Don’t miss the regular registration deadlines. The SAT and the ACT both charge hefty late registration fees. The penalty is $28.00 for the SAT (that’s on top of the $45.00 basic test fee) and $27.50 for the ACT (on top of the $42.50 test fee). If you register so late that the testing center can’t guarantee you a seat, you’ll also get hit with a standby registration fee — $46.00 for the SAT or $51.00 for the ACT.

The regular deadlines for test registration for both exams usually fall about a month before the test date.

Pick a test date and location – and stick to it. You can change the date or location of your test after you’ve registered – for a price. The SAT charges $28.00 to change a test date or location, and the ACT charges $25.00.

Decide ahead of time what schools you want your 4 free score reports sent to. Both the SAT and the ACT include 4 free score reports with their basic test fee. That works out to a $48 value, as you’ll have to pay $12 for each additional SAT or ACT score report. (Yes. In this instance, they charge the exact same price.) The catch to this is that you have to indicate which schools you want the 4 free reports sent to on the day you register to take the test. Make the best use of this opportunity by doing some school research and selection ahead of time. Think about using the free score reports for the schools you’re most likely to apply to.

SAT takers – you have nine days you take the test in which you can change the schools that you want the free reports sent to. If you come out of the SAT feeling you didn’t do as well as you should have, you can re-direct your free reports to your lower-priority schools.

ACT takers – you can designate up to 6 schools that you want your score reports sent to, but only the first 4 are free. You’ll have to pay the $12.00 fee for each of the other two reports.

Check whether you really need the ACT Writing Test for the schools you’re applying to. The Writing section of the ACT is optional. It adds $16.00 to the test cost and a little over half an hour to the length of the test. A number of schools make little use of writing test scores or samples in their admissions decisions. If that’s the case with the schools you’re targeting, you can opt out of this part of the test.

If you’re taking the SAT, the same advice as above holds true but the incremental cost is only $12.

If you’re re-taking the test, look into re-registering by phone. Both the SAT and the ACT list a special, greatly reduced test registration fee ($15.00) for students who are re-taking the test within a certain period of time. If you’re a junior who plans to take a standardized test once ‘for practice’ and then a second time ‘for real,’ remember to look into this service when you register the second time.

Think twice before requesting ‘rush’ reports of your scores. Applicants who take the SAT or ACT in late fall often worry that their score reports won’t arrive at their target schools in time and pay for a ‘rush’ score report. It’s often an unnecessary expense. Check with the admissions office of the school you’re applying to before you order an expedited report. It may be okay if your test scores arrive a few days or even a week or so after the application deadline.

Of course, the most important aspect of getting your money’s worth out of the SAT or ACT is to make sure that you prepare yourself for the test and get the scores you need to win admission to your target schools. See the SAT and ACT pages of our website for some tips on test preparation.

Your consultant can advise you on which test is a better choice for you, and what kind of scores you need to be a competitive applicant, given your unique candidate profile. Talk to them before deciding you need to take a prep course or re-take a test. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that you can safely put your money (and time) into other activities.

*This is how we came up with the $202 figure: The basic fee for the SAT Test with the optional essay is $57.00. If you register late, you’ll pay an additional $28.00, bringing your costs to $85.00. If you change your test site or date after that, you’ll pay another $28.00, raising your costs to $113.00. If you make that change so late that you have to register on a standby, or waitlist basis, the $46.00 standby fee will bring your total costs to $159.00. Finally, if you decide to have your score report rushed to your target school, you’ll be charged $12.00 for the report plus $31.00 for the rush service. That brings the grand total you pay to have one SAT score sent to one school to $202.00.

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