College apps, prom, AP tests, and more: senior year is expensive

Editor’s Note: This article was written for Mosaic Vision, an independent journalism training program for high school students to report and photograph stories under the guidance of professional journalists.

For seniors, their senior year of high school is the culmination of what they’ve been working toward all their lives. But many students may not know that the joys of graduation come with a heavy price.

As a college graduate, I learned that from entrance exams to graduation pictures to prom expenses, prices can add hundreds of dollars. Here are the costs I faced and how they skyrocketed.

One of the biggest costs of being a senior is applying to college. I applied to nine schools and it cost me $630.

Depending on which school you apply to, it can cost anywhere from $60 to $90 just to submit an application. This doesn’t even take into account what comes later – your deposit once you’re accepted, tuition and accommodation.

University of California and California State University schools may apply free of charge, but applicants must meet certain income criteria. For example, the UC San Diego website states that a typical household of three to four people must earn less than $39,300 per year to qualify.

The application fee did not affect my decision on which schools to apply to. However, I can understand how this may affect someone’s decision, especially for schools that don’t have application waivers or costly application fees. For those considering out-of-state colleges, the Western Undergraduate Exchange offers students in certain western states in-state instruction at public schools in reciprocal states.

Many colleges prefer students who take Advanced Placement Tests. Each test costs $80. I did two tests for a total of $160. The test fee is waived if your household qualifies for government-subsidized school lunches, a maximum of $36,075 per year for a family of four — a threshold too low for many applicants.

Then what about the other graduation-related costs like senior portraits, the eternal testimony of our youth, and the transition to adulthood?

My photo session cost me $40. But it didn’t stop there.

I paid $376 more for two picture poses that got me 40 wallets, four 5x7s, four 4x5s, one 8×10. In total I paid $416. Of course, this all depends on how many photos you want.

Seniors also have to pay for the cap and gown they must wear to enter the stage. The cap, gown and tassel, along with a diploma and tassel holder, cost around $70.

Then there’s the prom. At Silver Creek High School, our prom tickets currently range from $125 to $150, with the price increasing every few days. Ticket includes transportation, dinner, unlimited arcade games and laser tag.

Count on digging deeper into your wallet for a prom dress, which can cost anywhere from $100 to $1,000 in stores or online. Now add a few hundred dollars to get your hair, nails, shows and all the glam done.

For those wearing a tuxedo, you can rent one for $80-$150 or buy one for $100-$1,000.

If you buy a corsage and a boutonniere they range from $50 to $80. I’m guessing prom will cost me about $300.

For college applications, testing, prom, and year-end activities, I expect to spend about $1,600.

The increasing expenses of your senior year can come as a shock to students and their families.
I encourage you to sit down with your parents and have a realistic and honest discussion about college early on. Outline what to expect financially and what are the best options for you and your family. It can help you focus your list of colleges to apply to and anticipate how much financial aid you should apply for.

As someone who depends on the money I make after class, I have to make many decisions about how much money I want to spend. With most of my money going to college, it’s important to plan what I’m spending here and now.

But working as a senior comes at a cost of its own. The biggest one is missing out on fun activities and events because of your job. It’s also a lot of extra stress and a huge time commitment. Although sometimes it’s exhausting to work during school, I think it was the best decision for me and definitely eases the worries about college money.

Of course, all of these costs can be reduced by applying to fewer colleges, or by not buying as many images, or by cutting certain expenses. Know your budget before you spend.

Abigail Cordobes is a student at Silver Creek High School in San Jose.