Not only is the college application process extremely stressful, but it can also be ridiculously expensive.
Expense 1: You have to pay to take the ACT and/or SAT. What to do if you can’t afford to take the ACT or SAT?
Expense 2: Then you need to actually do a college visit, because that’s a crucial piece of the decision making process. After adding up gas, time off school (and work), a hotel room (if traveling out of state), and food for the trip, you could be looking at a couple hundred dollars just to visit! And you really should visit more than one school.
Expense 3: The applications. According to U.S. News, the average application fee in 2015 was $41. But remember, you have to multiply that by the number of applications you’re submitting.
So what can you do if you really can’t afford your college application fees?
See if the college waives the application fee for online applications
As the college application process continues to transition to a paperless system, more and more schools are waiving fees if the app is submitted online.
You can usually find out if this is the case pretty quickly. Click the “apply now” link on a college’s website and if it’s free its usually in big bolded font. Or, you can visit College Board’s list of colleges, if it’s free there’s a handy icon that lets you know.
Are you eligible for college app fee waivers?
If you received a fee waiver for the ACT and/or SAT, then you are also eligible for college application fee waivers.
Students who took the SAT with a fee waiver will automatically receive 4 college app fee waivers. Seniors will get the waivers when their scores arrive, and juniors will receive them during the fall of their senior year.
For those who had an ACT fee waiver, or who did not receive a waiver for either the ACT or SAT, there is a form you can complete with your school counselor. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has a fee waiver application that can be sent directly to the post-secondary institution. In order to be eligible, the student must display financial need as demonstrated by these indicators:
- ACT/SAT fee wavier
- Enrolled or eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch (FRPL)
- Enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that benefits students from low-income families (e.g., TRIO programs like Upward Bound)
- Family receives public assistance
- Living in federally subsidized housing, a foster home, or homelss
- Student is a ward of the state or an orphan
- Received a request from the high school principal, high school counselor, financial aid officer, or community leader
What if you’re applying via Common App?
If you are eligible to receive application fee waivers, as indicated by the criteria above, you will also be able to have those fees waived when using Common App.
A fee waiver can be requested on the profile screen when you’re logged in to your Common App page. The section is titled “Common Application Fee Waiver”. A request is typically then sent to your school counselor, and it is as simple as having them upload a form.
For a complete list of colleges and universities that are free, or accept fee waivers, visit College Board’s website. You should also talk to your school counselor to see if there are any community organizations in your area that offer assistance with these fees.