If you're deciding between taking the SAT and the ACT and you have a tight budget, this guide will help. We'll cover the registration costs, reporting costs, and how you can save money no matter what test you choose.
All Registration Costs for the SAT and ACT (Updated for 2021-2022)
Let's first look at the cost of registering for the test, and extra fees.
|Fee Type||What is this?||SAT Cost||ACT Cost|
|Registration Fee||The normal fee for each administration of the test you register for||
($85 with essay)
|Late Fee||Charged if you register after the regular deadline but before the final late deadline||$30||$36|
|Waitlist Fee||Charged if you register after the late registration deadline and are seated on test day.||$53||$57 (standby testing)|
|Change Fee||Charged if you change the test center, test date, or test type||$25||$40|
|Question and Answers||An optional service that sends you the test questions and correct answers (useful for seeing what mistakes you made)||$16||$30|
|International Fees||Charged additionally if you're taking the test outside of the United States||$43 to $53||$108.50|
For all fees, including the standard registration fee, the SAT is slightly cheaper than the ACT. Additionally, both tests charge through the nose for extra fees, punishing lack of planning ahead. As we'll cover below, planning early can represent a huge cost savings to you.
All Reporting Costs for the SAT and ACT
Once you take the test, you'll have to send your test scores to colleges. Each college you apply to will require its own SAT or ACT score report. If you apply to 12 colleges, you'll need to send 12 score reports.
|Fee Type||What is this?||SAT||ACT|
|Free Score Reports||The number of free reports you get when registering for the test||4 free reports, within 9 days after test||4 free reports, by the Thursday after the test|
|Cost per School||Charged for each report you send to a school outside of your free reports.||$12 per school||$16 per test per school|
|Rush reporting||Expedited sending of score reports||$31 per school||N/A|
Here's an elaboration. When you take the SAT or ACT, both tests allow you to send your scores to four schools for free. You will specify these four schools when registering for the test. The SAT gives you nine days after the test to decide those four schools, while the ACT only gives you six days.
Outside of the free reports, both tests will charge you for sending score reports. This can happen if you're too late in specifying your free reports, or if you exceed the four free reports per test. The SAT and the ACT differ here in a significant way.
The SAT can send all your College Board test scores to a school in a single report. This includes all SAT administrations.
The ACT, however, charges $16 per test per school. For example, if your school uses 'superscoring', you might want to send two or three tests to combine the highest score. This can really rack up the cost really quickly. For example, if you're applying to ten colleges and you want to send three test scores, this will mean $16 x 10 x 3 = $480, just to send your scores to schools.
All this money starts adding up. It pays to be proactive and to plan ahead. Here are four strategies to save as much money as possible on the SAT and ACT.
5 Tips to Save Money on the SAT and ACT
If you're on a budget, you can save a lot of money by planning ahead. Here are important ways to get money back.
#1: Apply for a Fee Waiver If You Qualify
Both the College Board and the ACT know that low-income families find it difficult to pay for these expensive tests. Applying for a fee waiver can save you hundreds of dollars. With a fee waiver, both tests give you free registration for tests and free score reports.
How do you qualify for a fee waiver? You qualify if any of the below is true:
- You're enrolled in or eligible for the federal Free and Reduced Price Lunch program
- You're enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that aids students from low-income families (like Upward Bound)
- Your family receives public assistance
- You live in public housing, a foster home, or are homeless.
- Your household income level falls below USDA levels for Reduced Price lunches
To get a fee waiver, you MUST go through your school counselor. You cannot apply directly through the College Board or ACT, Inc. This takes time, so make sure you do this well before you plan to register for the test.
Contact your school counselor as soon as possible if you qualify for a fee waiver.
#2: Register Early
The late fee for registration is around half the test of the cost itself, causing a 50% increase in the test cost if you're late to register. If you have a test date set in mind, register months in advance so you don't forget. Make sure you get a confirmation by e-mail so you have no surprises come test day.
Even worse than paying the late fee is missing the test date registration altogether. If you've been prepping for a specific date, this will cause you to lose momentum from your test prep and lower your score.
#3: Use the FREE Score Reports
Both the SAT and ACT give you free score reports to send to schools of your choosing. Make sure you specify schools before registration so you don't forget. Once the ACT test date passes, you won't be able to specify any more colleges to receive your test scores.
The only reason you may want to not specify a college for the free score report is if you're not sure you're going to do better, and you want to make sure the college receives only your top scores. For all other cases, send it to colleges that are on your application list.
#4: Self-Report Scores When Possible
In an attempt to lower the barrier to applying even further, some of the top schools in the country now allow students to self-report their SAT and ACT scores on their applications; you'll only have to submit official SAT/ACT score reports if you're accepted.
Prestigious national universities that allow self-reporting of SAT/ACT scores include Stanford, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Caltech, Rice, WashU in St. Louis, and Emory. Most of the top liberal arts colleges also have adopted this policy, including Williams, Amherst, Wellesley, Swarthmore, Middlebury, and Pomona.
Also, while this should go without saying, don't lie when self-reporting your SAT/ACT scores on your application. Don't write a score you plan to get on the February ACT or March SAT before admissions decisions go out (unless the school you're applying to accepts February ACT scores) and don't lie about doing better than you did. This will most likely result in your admission being rescinded not just because you didn't do as well as you said you did, but because you lied; institutions of higher learning generally aren't super keen to welcome academically dishonest students into their community.
#5: Use Your SAT/ACT Score to Qualify for Scholarships
Many states and schools have scholarships where the major qualification is your SAT/ACT score. By doing well on the test, you can make back more than it cost to take the test. Take the time to research these scholarships and apply for them if you qualify.
Now that you know how much the SAT and ACT cost, let's read more resources to learn more about these tests.
Is the SAT or ACT easier? Find out which you should take.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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As co-founder and head of product design at PrepScholar, Allen has guided thousands of students to success in SAT/ACT prep and college admissions. He's committed to providing the highest quality resources to help you succeed. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and earned two perfect scores on the SAT (1600 in 2004, and 2400 in 2014) and a perfect score on the ACT. You can also find Allen on his personal website, Shortform, or the Shortform blog.