How to Apply to Colleges With No Application Fee (And Other Ways to Save)

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Colleges with no application fee
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If you thought it was free to apply to college, you unfortunately thought wrong. Although there are a handful of colleges with no application fee, the majority charge money to apply. The average fee is $43, and some schools charge as much as $90.

If you apply to seven to 10 schools, you could be spending hundreds of dollars on application fees alone — and that doesn’t take into account the money you need to shell out for admissions tests or campus visits.

Fortunately, there are ways to keep costs down during college application season. By following these five tips, you can make it through without breaking the bank.

1. Search for colleges with no application fee
2. Request a college application fee waiver
3. Make the most of SAT or ACT fee waivers
4. Be strategic about your campus visits
5. Consider early action or early decision
Find more ways to save money before you get to campus

1. Search for colleges with no application fee

Many colleges charge an application fee as a way to filter out students who aren’t serious about attending. But some let you apply for free, so you can send off your materials without worrying about the cost. A school might also let you apply for free if you do so through the Common Application, an application management tool that lets you seek admission to several colleges at once.

Although an application fee shouldn’t prevent you from applying to your dream school, seeking out at least some colleges with no application fee could be a savvy way to save money throughout the process.

2. Request a college application fee waiver

Although most colleges do charge a fee to apply, you might be able to eliminate the cost with a college application fee waiver. Three organizations that offer fee waivers to students with financial need are College Board, the Common Application, and National Association for College Admission (NACAC).

To qualify for a fee waiver, you’ll need to meet certain income requirements. These could include:

  • Being eligible for the Federal Free or Reduced Price Lunch program (FRPL).
  • Having a family household income that falls within the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service’s Income Eligibility Guidelines.
  • Being enrolled in a program that aids students from low-income families

You can make college application fee waiver requests online, but it’s worth speaking with your school counselor about the process. Your counselor might already have waivers they can distribute to qualifying students.

Even if you don’t get one of these waivers, you might be able to snag one by speaking to the admissions office of your target school directly. If you explain that the application fees present a barrier for you and your family, an admissions officer might be able to help.

3. Make the most of SAT or ACT fee waivers

Not only will an SAT fee waiver potentially lead to a college application fee waiver, but it could save you serious money on testing fees. Admissions exam fees can add up quickly, especially if you’re taking these tests multiple times or opting for SAT Subject Tests on top of the main exam.

Reach out to your school counselor to see if you can qualify for SAT or ACT fee waivers, which let you take your chosen test for free twice. Plus, the SAT fee waiver gets rid of fees for up to six subject tests.

Eligibility requirements are largely the same as those mentioned above, including having a household income that falls within certain guidelines. Considering the SAT with essay typically costs $64.50, SAT subject tests cost $22 or $26 (plus a registration fee of $26), and ACT with writing goes for $68.00, fee waivers could save you a significant amount as you get ready for college.

4. Be strategic about your campus visits

Visiting campuses can be an exciting and enlightening part of the college selection process, as it gives you firsthand insight into whether a college is the right fit for you. According to USA Today, some colleges will even waive application fees if you set up an on-campus visit or interview.

So before hitting the road, find out if your college of choice offers this perk. If it doesn’t, you can still find ways to make your visits more affordable, perhaps by hitting several campuses in one day if they’re located close to each other.

And if campus visits are threatening to break the bank, consider opting for a virtual tour instead. Although you won’t get the same in-person feel, you might still get to explore the facilities online without having to spend a dime on travel.

5. Consider early action or early decision

If you have a dream school in mind, consider applying early action (EA) or early decision (ED). With these accelerated deadlines, you’ll typically apply in the fall and get notified of a decision before December.

If you get accepted, you won’t have to worry about sending off other college applications and racking up additional fees. But be careful about applying early decision if you’re not certain about your choice, as this binding option stipulates that you’ll attend the college if you get in.

Plus, it’s probably not worth it applying this way if you’re rushing to get your essay written and recommendations collected. While saving money on application fees is an important goal, you also want to send off the strongest application you can.

Find ways to save money before you get to campus

Although application and testing fees might pale in comparison to tuition costs, they can still add up to hundreds of dollars. If the fees are burdensome, reach out to your school counselor and admissions officers about fee waivers.

And make sure to pursue financial aid along the way by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), applying for scholarships and comparing costs of attendance at multiple colleges.

By being mindful about costs, you can save throughout the college application process and ultimately find a school that fits your financial goals, as well as your academic goals.

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