How Much Does it Cost to Have a High School Senior?

senior year expenses


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How Much Does it Cost to Have a High School Senior? 1

How Much Does the High School Senior Year Cost?


How much are the High School Senior Year Expenses? The truth is it can be A LOT! 

But, there are many ways to save money and much of the cost will depend on the choices you and your senior make.

How many colleges do you visit? How many schools do you apply to? Which announcements do you select? What selections do you make for a graduation party? Do you have a graduation party? Read on for a list of high school senior year expenses and the options for spending a LOT or a LITTLE.


senior year expenses

High School Senior Year Expenses


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I have listed the costs you can expect as senior year expenses below as well as HIGH/LOW suggestions for each of these costs.


Senior Year Expenses:

College Visits:

Without a doubt visiting colleges will be at the top of your senior year expenses if this item is on the agenda. The costs include transportation, hotel, meals, and a trip to the college bookstore for some swag from the school.

THE HIGH OPTION: If you have the budget for it, I say visit as many schools as you can. You will learn something at every visit even if it is that your student absolutely does not want to attend that college.

THE LOW OPTION: Save the visits for the finalist schools after acceptances have been received. Most schools have admitted student's days. Take advantage of these.

The worst way to lose money is to never visit, send your child, and then have them back home again after a terrible first semester. (This could still happen even with a visit, but it decreases the odds if your child has seen the place and met other students who are considering attending. My kids have met friends at admitted students days and it eases the transition to already know someone at school.)


Test Prep:

Preparing for the ACT/SAT can be expensive – sometimes in the thousands, depending on how you choose to prepare.

THE HIGH OPTION: The high option is a private tutor or an expensive prep course. Should you pay for this? It depends. If your child is looking at schools with a nice chart with automatic merit aid given for certain scores, then invest what you need to in order to get the score your child needs for aid. Every point on one of these tests can mean thousands of dollars in aid over four years of college. Don't skimp on the prep.

THE LOW OPTION: My son made a 36 on the ACT – yes, you read that right – a perfect score. His advice is to take as many prep tests as you can from the test prep books available on Amazon.

Practice is available for tens of dollars through these books. If your student's prospective schools do not award aid based on standardized test scores, then only invest what you need for admission and other scholarship opportunities. These tests are being deemphasized at many institutions.


College Application Fees:

If your student is going to apply to college, there are going to be fees. Easy money for the schools, but it can be a wallet drain for parents.

THE HIGH OPTION: Pay the fees (usually around $60 per application) for as many schools as your child wishes to apply to.

THE LOW OPTION: There are 2 options to save money on application fees.

(1) Set a budget and make your student make some hard choices now. Only apply to schools that you are certain they are interested in and that you will be able to afford.

(2) Apply for fee waivers from individual schools and the Common App.


Scholarship Help:

You may have heard that there are thousands of scholarships available from private organizations. The question is how much time and effort should you invest in trying to win them.

Two of my kids have won private scholarships. They were through local organizations they were already affiliated with (like Kiwanis/Key Club) and through  CSPAN Student Cam . My son, who won 3 different awards from CSPAN, had extensive coaching from a high school film instructor with a history of coaching kids in winning these particular awards, so coaching does pay off. 

THE HIGH OPTION: Invest in an online program like The Scholarship System to guide you through every step of applying for scholarships. I interviewed Jocelyn about her experience winning $126,000 to pay for college and her system for teaching others to do the same in this post: Scholarship Tips from the Winner of Over $126,000.

THE LOW OPTION: Invest in a low cost book that will teach you the ropes like How to Win Scholarships by Monica Matthews. She coached her son as he won over $100,000 in scholarships and has written a book to teach you to do the same.


Graduation Announcements:

THE HIGH OPTION: Go all out and buy expensive annoucements from sources like Minted. They are amazing. I bought announcements for my middle son from Minted. They are gorgeous and are hand made to your specifications. Bonus: They will address them for you!!! If you want to spend some a large chunk of change on announcements, these are the ones for you.

THE LOW OPTION: Send a limited number of announcements to only very close friends and family. Shop for the best deals at Walgreens, Target, CVS, etc.

Senior Pictures:

THE HIGH OPTION: Hire the best photographer in town and spend to your heart's desire. If you live in Oklahoma, I cannot recommend our photographer enough. She is very reasonable (as high end photographers go) and is absolutely the BEST PHOTOGRAPHER IN TOWN. Check out Hope's Instagram.


The lowest option is not to have professional photos taken.

The second lowest is to buy a portrait from the “FREE YEARBOOK SESSION” that you will most likely be offered by your child's school.

Other ideas are to take them yourself. (Even phones take amazing photos these days) Or enlist a photographer who is just starting out or who is doing it as a hobby to take your pictures.


Senior Prom:

Well, don't get me started here. My daughter went to two proms because her boyfriend attended a different school than she did. And… in the days of social media, you are not supposed to wear the same dress twice, so yes, we bought two dresses. Don't judge me. She is the baby!

THE HIGH OPTION: Pay for it all – dress, flowers, tux rental, limousine rental, the dinner before, prom tickets, after prom activities, etc. Your wallet is your limit.

THE LOW OPTION: Budget what you can afford and tell your child the rest is on them.

Ideas for saving money include renting a dress, borrowing a dress, and shopping stores like Nordstrom Rack and Off 5th (the Saks discounter). We once found a homecoming dress for $30 at Off 5th.

We were blessed with some very savvy moms in my middle son's friend group. They would arrange a dinner with a fixed menu of 3 choices at a restaurant and arrange a not-that-fancy bus for the kids to take to events. Any one who wanted in, paid for their dinner and a share of the bus ahead of time – way more reasonable than having the kids order off the entire menu and rent smaller seating transportation. 

My husband and I hosted after prom breakfasts for both our sons. We did a waffle bar. See my Waffle Bar post for my husband's out-of-this-world, melt-in-your-mouth waffle recipe. Waffles are made from flour, eggs, and sugar, so not expensive. You can add topping and additional food according to your budget.


Graduation Cap and Gown:

The cap and gown supplier will show up at your school and explain to your child that they need hundreds of dollars worth of items from their catalog. They do not. No reason for a high and low here. Order the cheap gown and maybe a slight upgrade to the tassel, but skip the rest. Pu-lease! Marketing to high school students. You can also order the school's official announcements at this time, but, your child will most likely prefer a more personal announcement that you create.


Graduation Party:

There are 2 kinds of graduation parties.

The first is the one the school throws after graduation to give the kids one last night together and to avoid the possible tragedies that can occur if the kids do not have anything to do. These parties are usually low cost to attend and the school will most likely scholarship the kids who cannot afford it. They want the kids safe!!

The two graduation parties I have helped chaperone have been so fun for the kids – hypnotists, door prizes (one son won a commercial keurig donated by an office supply company), inflatables, bingo with cash prizes (trust me, kids will play bingo like your grandma if cash is at stake), photo booths, and more. Send your student to this party!!! They will not regret attending.

The other kind of graduation party is the one you host to honor your student. Budget dictates the high and low.

THE HIGH OPTION: Caterer, rental tables and chairs, professional decorations, printed invitations from Minted, etc. For my middle son the invitation to his party was on his Minted announcement (so even though the announcements were expensive, we killed 2 senior year expenses with one stone.)


THE IN-BETWEEN OPTION: This is the route we have taken with our kids. Splurge on some items, save on others. Get catering trays instead of having a caterer deliver them to your house. Make some of the items yourself like these Texas cookies to celebrate your child's college choice. I ordered photo booth items from a vendor on Etsy and made the backdrop (which was not that easy) from 2 photo booth backdrops I found on Amazon. I set up a popcorn booth in a room with a slide show of our son growing up.

My daughter's party was a little more involved, but it was for her and a friend – a senior year expenses smart option! Split the cost with another family. For pictures and information about her party: Graduation Brunch Ideas

How Much Does it Cost to Have a High School Senior? 2

Homemade Cookies

How Much Does it Cost to Have a High School Senior? 3

Photo Booth

How Much Does it Cost to Have a High School Senior? 4

Photo Booth Props

I ordered the props online from It's Twinkle Time on Etsy for my University of Texas Film major.

How Much Does it Cost to Have a High School Senior? 5

Popcorn Bar

Easy, cheap, and fun! 

How Much Does it Cost to Have a High School Senior? 6

The Spread

Our spread included a mixture of catering trays from a local grocer and items we made ourselves like cookies, chips and salsa, and lemonade.

What senior year expenses are you expecting? What are your suggestions for high and low options for senior year expenses? Tell us below in the comments.


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I’m Laura

Welcome to Almost Empty Nest! I began this blog in September 2014 after leaving my oldest son at college and realizing that my nest was emptying. Join me on this journey as we explore the path of guiding our children to adulthood and rediscovering ourselves beyond the mom years.


  1. I really like this post. I wish I had all this information last year. It is a very expensive year.

    • It is indeed and the money is flying out of our windows right now as our daughter graduates this month!!!!

  2. These are all great ideas and things families need to consider! I definitely agree that it will cost more in the long run to not go to see the colleges! One trick we did use for senior photos was to hire a teen/college student breaking into photography. My son’s photos were amazing AND he was super at ease because he was friends with the photographer.


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