Tuesday, October 4, 2022
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I had no idea how expensive senior year of high school is. I spent over $2,100 before it even ended.

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  • I knew college would be expensive, but the cost of my son’s senior year of high school shocked me.
  • Money spent on exams and visiting colleges adds up quickly.
  • We spent over $2,100 out of pocket in his last year of school.

College is expensive; that’s a no-brainer. But what I didn’t know as a parent is that expenses start adding up well before the college drop-off. I didn’t know I should’ve been budgeting for the last year of high school.

The focus on finishing high school and preparing for college first hit me during the summer before my son started 12th grade. He had already taken multiple AP exams and the PSAT, and we had discussed which universities and careers he might be interested in.

But it wasn’t until he was about to start his final year of high school that I started to realize how much it was going to cost to celebrate his achievements and plan for the next chapter of his life.

Visiting colleges and paying for tests

The first expense was a college visit. After deciding to apply to four in-state universities, he asked me to take him on a tour of his top choice. So the two of us went on a road trip, driving 3 1/2 hours, staying a night in a hotel, and getting a glimpse of what his college life might look like. With meals, gas, and a splurge on a school sweatshirt, the road trip cost over $400.

It continued from there. His last AP exam was $96. He took the SAT twice, each time at $55. A preordered yearbook was $82. Senior portraits were a whopping $183, and that was the most basic package offered. This was all charged on my credit card by the end of September.

Then it was time to complete applications for those four universities, which my son submitted in November and December. I spent $250 on applications, each of which cost $50 to $70.

After winter break, the high school started sending emails with more must-buys to recognize our seniors — costly items that all parents are told they want in order to show how proud we are of our young adults. My mom guilt was in full form as I discussed with my son what I would definitely buy and what I would buy only if he felt an overwhelming need for it.

So I spent $70 on his cap and gown, plus $25 for his honors tassel, sash, and cord boasting his high GPA. I spent $26 on a yard sign informing our neighbors we had a soon-to-be high-school graduate. I spent $45 on his senior day trip to Washington, DC, slipping him an additional $40 in cash for food not included in the school’s fee. I spent $52 on the overnight party hosted by his school at a local arcade the night of his graduation.

Meanwhile, the college acceptances rolled in, and my son committed to his first choice. We excitedly paid the $400 deposit to the university and shortly thereafter dropped $200 for his upcoming in-person summer orientation — that required an overnight stay, so add $150 for the hotel.

That’s a total of over $2,100. And senior year hadn’t even ended yet.

I’d offered to pay for everything so he could save for college

Of course, I could have told my son to take some financial responsibility. He worked two jobs most of his senior year and had some money saved up. But while he knew that certain social events and fast-food snacks and gas fill-ups came out of his paychecks, I always offered to pay for senior-year fun and expenses. I didn’t want him to miss out on anything because he was too frugal to spend his own cash.

That said, he was aware of the costs that were adding up and chose to skip things like a class ring, graduation announcements, and an ad in the yearbook. He never took SAT-prep classes or the ACT, nor did he attend the prom that would have required expensive tickets and a tuxedo rental. And while I took him on one college visit, he went on two more tours with other family members that I didn’t have to pay for. These opt-outs saved me several hundred dollars.

Senior year is a whirlwind of stressful college applications, life decisions, celebrations of accomplishments, and preparations for adulthood. I did my best to support my son as he navigated this milestone year, including financially, so he could look back on the end of his time in high school with pride and fond memories.

And as he goes off to college, I’m thankful I have a couple more years to save up before repeating it all for my teenage daughter’s senior year.

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