When I was a high school senior, my classmates applied to dozens of schools. Dream schools, reach schools, safe schools — they spent hundreds on application fees, even to apply to schools they didn’t really want to attend.
I, on the other hand, was determined to save money. I applied to just three colleges, all of which I knew would accept me. I wanted to compare scholarship offers to find the cheapest one. But applying to the three schools cost me $150, which I wasn’t prepared for.
As I found out, application fees can add up quickly. For low-income students, the cost can prevent them from applying to enough schools, or might cause them to skip college altogether.
That’s why it’s important to know about waiver programs that will cover the cost of your application fees. By finding these programs, you can apply to multiple schools without worrying about finding extra money.
Here’s what you need to know about college application fee waiver programs.
Applying to colleges can cost hundreds
Most college experts recommend that you apply to at least five to eight schools to maximize your chance of a university accepting you and finding a good fit. The average fee to apply is $42, but some schools charge as much as $90. If you applied to eight schools who charge the average fee, you’d pay $336 in fees.
Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy at the National College Access Network, said that high costs can make applying to multiple schools impossible for some.
“If they [families] aren’t aware of how to access application fees, which is a burden itself, then they may think they have to consider delaying the payment of a utility bill or purchasing household items or even delaying buying groceries in order to help their student pay for college,” said Warick.
For low-income families where the student is the first in the family to go to college, the application process can seem very strange.
“Families may struggle to accept that they need to pay to be considered as an applicant and not even be admitted, which can feel like a waste of preciously scarce dollars,” said Warick. “Higher fees could also deter low-income students from applying to several institutions, making it hard for them to find the best match.”
How fee waiver programs work
College application fee waiver initiatives play a pivotal role in helping low-income students go to college. There are several programs out there, but many families aren’t aware they exist.
“Lowering all fees would help students think more broadly about where they go to college, but our first target would be to expand the availability and use of fee waivers for low-income students,” said Warick.
These programs completely cover your application fees, so you can search for schools without worrying about the cost of applying to each one. Although not all colleges accept waivers, there are thousands of schools that do.
Some programs require proof of your household’s income, so it’s a good idea to track down paystubs or tax returns ahead of time to streamline the process.
4 college application fee waiver programs
If you’re struggling to come up with the cash to apply to colleges, these programs might be able to help.
1. College Board fee waiver
Income-eligible students can qualify for a waiver for the SAT or SAT subject tests and apply to up to four schools for free.
College Board’s SAT and college application fee waiver program is available to low-income students in their junior or senior year of high school. You are eligible for the waivers if one of the following statements is true:
- You’re eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
- Your household income is within the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service’s Income Eligibility Guidelines.
- You’re enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that aids students from low-income families.
- Your family receives public assistance.
- You live in a foster home.
- You’re in a federally subsidized public housing program.
- You’re homeless.
- You’re a ward of the state or an orphan.
To get the College Board waiver, contact your high school counselor. You’ll need to show proof of eligibility, such as your family’s tax returns or proof of your enrollment in a government program.
2. Common App waiver
Over 700 schools allow students to use the Common Application to apply. By using the application, students can fill out just one application and submit it to all of the schools on their list.
The schools that use the Common Application try to ensure that fees won’t deter students from applying. If you’re in a precarious financial situation, the Common App fee waiver can help.
The Common App waiver has the same eligibility requirements as the College Board waiver.
3. NACAC application fee waiver
To help make college more accessible for all, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) offers a college application fee waiver, as well.
The NACAC waiver has the same eligibility requirements as the waivers from College Board and Common App. However, NACAC requires you to send the application directly to your school of choice.
4. Individual college programs
If you are ineligible for the above programs, or you have used your waiver for four schools already, don’t worry — that’s still not the end of the story. You might be able to qualify for a fee waiver directly from the colleges you choose.
Many schools have their own waiver programs, including institutions like Dartmouth and the University of Colorado-Boulder.
School-specific waiver programs can have more flexible eligibility requirements. For example, Dartmouth offers preapproved waivers to military veterans and students who participated in the Dartmouth Bound campus visitation programs.
If you need a waiver, contact the school’s financial aid office and explain your situation. You might be eligible for programs you didn’t know existed.
Affording to apply for college
Choosing a college can be overwhelming and stressful. The last thing you need is to add worrying about the cost of applications to the mix. If application fees are too expensive for you, check out fee waiver programs so you can focus on getting your application (and the dreaded admissions essay) perfect.
Already accepted to your favorite school? If you’re worrying about how you’re going to pay for four years of college (or more), check out this article on scholarships that cover tuition and more.
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