How Much Does It Cost to Take the SAT or ACT & How to Save on Fees

How Much Does It Cost to Take the SAT or ACT & How to Save on Fees
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

The SAT and ACT are deemed to be positively correlated to socioeconomic status. (Sackett et al., 2009). As such, critiques argue that such tests are “wealth tests” rather than measures of achievements. (Dixon-Román, 2019) This issue begs the question–how much does it cost to take the SAT and ACT, and is there a way to reduce such costs?

One may wonder: if the SAT and ACT are costly, why take them? Indeed, especially since the onset of the pandemic, over 1,800 accredited colleges and universities have gone test-optional or test-blind, not requiring applicants for fall 2022 admission to submit SAT and ACT scores. (FairTestb, 2021) Still, the SAT and ACT may still be useful for landing scholarships.

For students considering taking the SAT and ACT, here are the fees associated with them as well as some suggested means to mitigate the costs.

Cost of SAT and ACT Table of Contents

  1. SAT cost vs. ACT cost
  2. How to get SAT and ACT fee waivers?
  3. How to Save for the SAT and ACT
  4. Can the SAT or ACT help students land a scholarship?
  5. SAT vs. ACT: Quick and Fun Facts

SAT Cost vs. ACT Cost

The ACT composite score fell from 20.7 to 20.6 this year, the lowest in 10 years. Meanwhile, the SAT scores also declined to 1,051 from 1,059. (Jaschik, 2021) Along with the significant declines in the average scores for the SAT and ACT, the fees remain a concern for students. Here are details on SAT cost vs. ACT cost.

The registration test for the SAT is $55. This fee is non-refundable. For international students, there will be non-U.S. regional fees on top of this registration fee. The added regional fees are as follows.

  • Africa (Sub-Saharan): $43
  • Americas: $43
  • East Asia/Pacific: $53
  • Europe and Eurasia: $49
  • The Middle East/North Africa: $47
  • South and Central Asia: $49

Palau, The Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia are exempted from international processing fees due to their Compact of Free Association with the U.S.

Students may use PayPal, credit cards, check, or money orders to pay for their requests. Avoid sending cash as it will not be accepted.

Meanwhile, the full ACT (no writing) costs $168.50; with writing, it costs $188.50. Should a student decide to change tests, say, from no writing to writing, there is a fee of $40.00. The writing test fee may be refunded on written request if a student is absent on the test day or switches to ACT no writing before testing begins.

While the ACT is available internationally, the fee will not be different.

Payments may be done through direct deposit or using a credit card.

Source: American College Testing, 2019

Additional Fees

There are going to be instances when students will have to cancel their registration, request additional score reports, or perhaps expedite results. All these are possible but with additional fees.

SAT Additional Fees

The following are the charges for SAT.

  • Change registration: $25
  • Cancel registration: $25
  • Late cancel registration: $35
  • Late registration: $30
  • Waitlist fee (charged only if the student is admitted to test center on test day: $53
  • Additional Score request: $12 per report
  • Rush order: $31
  • Scores by phone: $15 per call
  • Archived (older) score order: $31
  • Question and Answer service: $16
  • Student Answer Service: $16
  • Multiple-choice hand score verification: $55
  • Test center fee: $24

ACT Additional Fees

The following are the additional fees for the ACT.

  • Late registration: $36
  • Change fee: $40
  • Score reports to 5th and 6th college choices: $16
  • Additional score reports: $16

share of test-takers who used fee waivers in 2020

How to get SAT and ACT fee waivers?

Students can save money by applying for SAT or ACT fee waivers. Not everyone will be eligible, but those who are may enjoy other services with the waiving of fees.

SAT Fee Waiver

The proportion of low-income students who used fee waivers fell from 17% in 2020 to 7% in 2021. (Jaschik, 2021) Regardless, the SAT fee waiver remains a viable means to reduce, if not entirely eliminate, the cost of taking the SAT.

Students who meet the following are eligible for SAT fee waivers.

  • Enrolled in or eligible for the federal School Lunch Program (NSLP)
  • Annual family income meets USDA Food and Nutrition Service Income Eligibility Guidelines
  • Enrolled in a federal, state, or local program for low-income pupils (i.e., Federal TRIO programs like Upward Bound)
  • A family on welfare
  • Resides in public housing, a foster home, or is homeless
  • A state ward or orphan

Eligible students may seek the help of their school counselor or a representative of an authorized community-based organization to get a fee waiver. Homeschooled students may contact a local high school counselor to get waivers. They simply must provide proof of eligibility, such as tax records or proof of enrollment in an aid program like those listed above.

ACT Fee Waiver

In a report covering tests from 2014 to 2019, over a quarter of students who registered for the ACT using a fee waiver did not test as scheduled, and over half of those students did not test within three years. (ACT, 2021) The fee waiver, nevertheless, remains a reasonable means to reduce the cost of taking the ACT. To become eligible for an ACT fee waiver, students must meet ALL the following requirements.

  • Enrolled in 11th or 12th-grade high school;
  • Testing in the U.S., U.S. territories, or P.R.;
  • Meet one or more of the following economic indicators:
    • Enrolled in a federal free or reduced-price school lunch program based on USDA income levels;
    • Enrolled in a low-income program (i.e., a federally funded program like GEAR UP or Upward Bound);
    • Family lives on welfare or in federally subsidized public housing;
    • Total annual family income is or below USDA levels for free or reduced-price lunches; and
    • In a foster home, a state ward, or homeless.

Please note that a fee waiver is not available to students who are not economically disadvantaged.

Students who are eligible for an ACT fee waiver may go to their school counselor to confirm their eligibility. If they are so, they may receive up to four fee waivers to take to the ACT test for free.

Source: National Center for Sciences and Engineering Statistics

What do fee waivers cover?

The coverage of SAT and ACT fee waivers is not limited to registration fees. The SAT, for one, covers the following services.

  • Two SAT registration fees
  • Two copies of Answer Service, which informs students about test questions and how they are answered. When ordering Answer Services, students will either receive the Question-and-Answer Service (QAS) or the Student Answer Service (SAS).
  • No limit to the number of score reports that students can order after registering for the test(s)
  • Fees for applying at participating colleges are waived
  • Free CSS Profile applications for participating schools’ financial aid
  • Non-U.S. Regional Fee for U.S. Students Testing Abroad;
  • Late registration fee for U.S. students testing in U.S. territories
  • Cancellation fee (unused fee waiver benefits are restored)

Meanwhile, the ACT fee waiver covers the following.

  • Registration
  • Late fees for either full ACT with writing or the full ACT (no writing).
  • one report to a student’s high school and up to six college choices (at the time he or she registers)
  • After receiving the score, a student can request unlimited regular score reports for free.
  • Free access to The Official ACT Self-Paced Course

Take note that waivers may NOT be used to pay for any additional fees, products, or services.

Limitations of Fee Waivers

As previously stated, students can only receive two SAT waivers. This means any additional testing will be charged at full price. Meanwhile, to get a waiver, students must also register on time. The waiver is not valid for students who are waitlisted for a test date.

Finally, if there are any additional fees or costs associated with the specific test date or exam that students wish to take, they will need to be paid separately as such fees are not covered by the waiver.

States That Pay for ACT and SAT Fee Waivers

Several states will pay for public school students’ SAT and ACT tests. According to the College Board, as reported by Ross and Moody (2021), the following 15 states will cover the cost of an SAT test for certain students in 2020-2021, along with the District of Columbia:

  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Florida
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • West Virginia

The ACT has a higher number of states offering fee waivers. According to an ACT spokesperson, as cited by Ross and Moody (2021), 24 states fund ACT testing. The ACT is required in 15 states and is optional in nine others. The ACT is free for students in the following states:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

How to Save for the SAT and ACT

Students may be concerned about the cost of taking the SAT or ACT (or both). Prep classes and tutoring for the SAT and ACT are additional costs. The average cost for SAT tutor, for instance, is about $70. That can be a lot of money. But you can save money on the SAT and ACT and still do well. Here are some cost-saving tips.

Apply for a Fee Waiver

As shown in the previous section, The College Board and the ACT are aware that low-income families struggle to afford costly exams. As such, both offer fee waivers. A fee waiver application can save students hundreds of dollars. Both tests offer free registration and score reports with a fee waiver.

Students can get a fee waiver through their school counselor, not through the organizations conducting the exams. It could take time, so students better start applying early.

Register Early

The late registration fee is around half the test cost, causing a 50% increase in the test cost if students register late. If students know when they will take the test, registering months ahead of time would be ideal.

Take Advantage of FREE Score Reports

The SAT and ACT both provide free score reports to schools of choice. It is best for students to specify schools before registering because, after the test dates, they can no longer specify colleges to receive their scores.

Meanwhile, students may choose not to specify a college for the free score report if they are unsure that they will improve and if they want to ensure the college receives only their best scores. Otherwise, sending the score to colleges on their list is ideal.

Self-Report Scores

Some schools allow students to self-report their SAT and ACT scores on their applications, with official SAT/ACT score reports required only if accepted. It is best for students to check for the schools they are sending their applications to if self-reporting is accepted.

Of course, students must not lie about their scores on the application. Academically dishonest students are generally not welcomed into higher education institutions, so admission will most likely be rescinded.

Apply for Scholarships

Many states and schools offer scholarships based on SAT/ACT scores. Students can recoup the test fee by doing well on the test. It is best to check which scholarships consider SAT and ACT scores for qualification.

average cost of SAT tutor

Can the SAT or ACT help students land a scholarship?

Scholarships for low-income students are available for SAT or ACT scores of 1200 or 25, respectively. Scholarships worth $10,000 or more are available to students with higher SAT or ACT scores. But many prestigious scholarships also require a minimum GPA. (Smith, 2021)

While some scholarships are test-optional or test-blind, many colleges and universities do use the SAT or ACT scores to award merit-based scholarships. In some cases, a mix of test scores and GPA is required. (Smith, 2021)

Nevertheless, with the post-pandemic actions taken by some institutions regarding college tests, do note that some colleges and universities that use “test-optional” admissions no longer require the SAT or ACT. Others, including private scholarships, require scores even if they do not require them for admission. It is best to look into the requirements of colleges and universities as well as other scholarship programs regarding ACT or SAT scores.

SAT vs. ACT: Quick and Fun Facts

High School GPAs (HSGPA) are frequently perceived as inconsistent indicators of college readiness, whereas test scores (e.g., ACT and SAT scores) are seen as comparable. (Allensworth & Clark, 2020)

Allensworth and Clark (2020) examined variation in high school HSGPAs and ACT scores as indicators of college readiness in their study titled “High School GPAs and ACT Scores as Predictors of College Completion: Examining Assumptions About Consistency Across High Schools” published in Educational Researcher. They found “The relationship of HSGPAs with college graduation is strong and consistent and larger than school effects.” On the contrary, “The relationship of ACT scores with college graduation is weak and smaller than high school effects.”

On the same note, another study cited by Cooper (2021) shows that while both GPA and the SAT/ACT predict completion, the link between high school GPA and graduation rates is the strongest. The expected graduation rate for a student with a high SAT score (over 1100) but a mediocre high school GPA (between 2.67 and 3.0) is 39%. Conversely, students with low SAT scores but high GPAs graduate at a rate of 62%.

Quick Facts about SAT and ACT

Regardless of these findings and the recent decision of U.S. accredited colleges and universities to go test-optional or test-blind, some students still take the ACT or SAT seriously, with about 1.3 million students taking the ACT in 2021 and 1.5 million students taking the SAT in the same year. Here are some quick facts about the SAT and ACT.

  1. The SAT covers reading, writing and language, math, and an optional essay, whereas the ACT covers English, Reading, Math, Science, and an optional essay.
  2. The SAT takes three hours for a test with no essay and 3.5 hours for one with an essay, whereas the ACT test with no essay lasts for two hours 55 minutes and three hours 35 minutes for a test with an essay.
  3. The average SAT score for 2019 was 1,060, with 533 for Evidence-based reading and writing (ERW) and 528 for Math. The highest mean score was among Asians at 1,239. (College Board, 2021)
  4. The average ACT score for 2020 was 20.6, with Asians having an average of 24.9. (ACT, 2020)
  5. Over 1,800 accredited colleges and universities have gone test-optional or test-blind as of December 2021. (FairTest, 2021)

Fun Facts about SAT and ACT

Just for the sake of breaking students’ intense study, here are some fun facts from Roxie the Raptor (2020) about the SAT and ACT.

  1. The SAT began as a military I.Q. Test in 1926. It was used to test WWI recruits. The original test was much harder than the current one. In one section, test takers had to translate sentences into a made-up language. 
  2. SAT stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test, but the name was later changed to Scholastic Assessment Test to appease critics. Other critics agreed, so it was changed to SAT I: Reasoning Test. The letters SAT are now meaningless. They are just redundant letters from the original name. 
  3. Cheating on the ACT is a crime. A group of New York students who took tests for others was brought up with criminal charges, which were later dropped. No one was jailed. 
  4. The ACT did not use to have student photos on the admission tickets, after a 2011 case where several students hired ‘test-takers’ with fake I.D.s to answer the ACT for them, the uploading of a photo before the test was required. 
  5. The ACT debuted in 1959. It was only required in Illinois and Colorado at the time. 

SAT or ACT: Which test to take?

If the schools where students are applying to are “test optional,” they can choose to take one or both exams. Others may feel that a high test score can strengthen their application. However, the registration fees and fees apart from the cost of preparing for the test could be utterly high and must be factored in when deciding.

Also, before deciding which test to take, students must consider the test formats and what they will be evaluated on for each test. Knowing such details and applying some tips and strategies to prepare for the examinations could help students decide which test best showcases their strengths.

Ultimately, students must check if the college or university, or even the scholarship, they are targeting still requires the ACT or SAT. This consideration would be vital in decision-making.

 

References:

  1. ACT. (2020). ACT National Ranks – Scores – The ACT – Products and Services |ACT. ACT. https://www.act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/the-act/scores/national-ranks.html
  2. ACT. (2021, May 4). Why Do So Many Fee-Waived ACT Registrations Go Unused? ACT. https://leadershipblog.act.org/2021/05/why-do-fee-waivers-go-unused.html
  3. Aldric, A. (2021). Average ACT Score for 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, and Earlier Years. Prepscholar.com. https://blog.prepscholar.com/average-act-score-by-year
  4. Allensworth, E. M., & Clark, K. (2020). High School GPAs and ACT Scores as Predictors of College Completion: Examining Assumptions About Consistency Across High Schools. Educational Researcher, 49(3), 198–211. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X20902110
  5. College Board. (2021). SAT Suite of Assessments Annual Report. In CollegeBoard.org. https://reports.collegeboard.org/pdf/2021-total-group-sat-suite-assessments-annual-report.pdf
  6. Cooper, P. (2021, January 11). What Predicts College Completion? High School GPA Beats SAT Score. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/prestoncooper2/2018/06/11/what-predicts-college-completion-high-school-gpa-beats-sat-score/?sh=4d00d654b09f
  7. Dixon-Román, E. J. (2019, October 29). Standardized tests like SAT and ACT favor students with family wealth | Opinion. Https://Www.inquirer.com; The Philadelphia Inquirer. https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/commentary/sat-act-standardized-tests-equity-socioeconomic-status-wealth-20191029.html
  8. FairTest. (2021a). FairTest | The National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Fairtest.org. https://fairtest.org/university/optional
  9. FairTest. (2021b, April 27). 1,400+ U.S. Four-Year Colleges and Universities Will Not Require ACT/SAT Scores for Fall 2022 Entry | FairTest. Fairtest.org. https://www.fairtest.org/1400-us-fouryear-colleges-and-universities-will-no
  10. Jaschik, S. (2021, September 20). 700,000 Fewer Took the SAT. Insidehighered.com. https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2021/09/20/sat-annual-report-says-those-who-took-test-fell-700000
  11. McGurran, B. (2021, May 24). 5 College Application And Enrollment Trends To Watch For In Fall 2021. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/student-loans/college-application-and-enrollment-trends/
  12. Moody, J. (2021). ACT vs. SAT: How to Decide Which Test to Take. U.S. News & World Report; U.S. News & World Report. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/act-vs-sat-how-to-decide-which-test-to-take
  13. Ross, K. M., & Moody, J. (2021). How to Get SAT, ACT Fee Waivers. U.S. News & World Report; U.S. News & World Report. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/how-to-take-the-sat-act-for-free
  14. Roxie the Raptor. (2017, August 10). Interesting Facts About The ACT. College Raptor Blog; College Raptor, Inc. https://www.collegeraptor.com/getting-in/articles/act-sat/interesting-facts-act/
  15. Roxie the Raptor. (2020, January 21). Fun Facts About The ACT / SAT You Need to Know. College Raptor Blog. https://www.collegeraptor.com/getting-in/articles/act-sat/3-fun-facts-about-the-actsat/
  16. Sackett, P., Kuncel, N., Arneson, J., Cooper, S., & Waters, S. (2009b). Socioeconomic Status and the Relationship Between the SAT ® and Freshman GPA: An Analysis of Data from 41 Colleges and Universities. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED562860.pdf
  17. Smith, R. (2021, October 17). Minimum SAT/ACT Scores to Get Scholarships – College Reality Check. Collegerealitycheck.com. https://collegerealitycheck.com/sat-act-scores-for-scholarships/

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