College is expensive.

While that’s not exactly breaking news, what may surprise you is that it’s not just attending a college that’s pricey. Applying to schools can be costly as well. Considering the average college application fee is $43 and students apply to an average of nearly six schools, application fees can easily add up to over $250. This is a cost you should consider as your family budgets for college spending. That said, there are some ways to get these fees covered, partially or entirely. Here, experts and experienced parents share their insights on minimizing application fees.

Fee Waivers from Colleges

Keep an eye out for fee-waiver events. “Some colleges or universities may waive their application fee during a special event like on-site admissions,” says Christopher Tremblay Ed.D., a 25-year veteran in college counseling and admissions. Boston University, for example, offers fee waivers to students after an official visit to the department of communications. Also, there are a host of colleges with no application fee at all or no fees for applications submitted online.

To see what’s available at your target schools, Tremblay suggests you check out their websites and call admissions offices. Briana Carlson Monaco, a parent of a college sophomore, seconds the advice of calling admissions offices because all fee waiver options may not be listed online. Many of her daughter’s friends called colleges and learned there were waivers for first-generation college students that were not advertised.  

It never hurts to ask. Former Boston Public School high school counselor Genevieve Chorhummel suggests that “it is better to ask for a fee waiver and be denied than not to ask at all.” There really is no downside to asking, and it could save you hundreds.

College Board Fee Waiver Program

There are also more than 2,000 colleges that participate in a fee waiver program with the College Board®. If you have taken the SAT® exam or SAT Subject Tests™ using an income-based fee waiver, you can apply to up to four participating schools without an application fee. This is an automatic program, and you don’t need high school counselor approval for fee waivers at these schools. Still, you may want to confirm protocol with the schools where you’re applying. These waivers can also be used on Coalition, Common and Universal applications, but there may be extra steps. Read the application instructions carefully and reach out to your target schools’ admissions offices with any questions.

Application Fee Programs

All 50 states now participate in the American College Application Campaign (ACAC). The campaign was designed to encourage more first-generation and low-income students to apply to at least one college. As part of this initiative, many schools waive application fees for all students during a College Application Day or College Application Week in early fall. To see if your target schools participate in this initiative, check out the ACAC’s list of schools, which is organized by state.

There are also private programs that include application fee waivers as part of their overall assistance. For instance, Kristi Weller’s daughter, now a student at the University of Chicago, applied to college through Questbridge, which aims to connect high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds with top universities, and she received fee waivers to 10 schools.

Low-Income Waivers

It is possible for students with limited financial resources to receive waivers for college application fees, meaning you’ll avoid paying application fees entirely if you qualify. To receive income-based waivers, you should work with your high school counselor to fill out the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s Request for Admission Application Fee Waiver form. A high school counselor can approve your request for a waiver if you meet any of the below criteria:

  • You are eligible for the SAT/ACT® exam fee waiver.
  • Your family income is within Eligibility Guidelines for USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
  • You are enrolled in federal/state/local program that helps students from low-income families.
  • Your family receives public assistance.
  • You live in federally subsidized public housing, a foster home or are homeless.
  • You are a ward of the state or an orphan.
  • Your high school principal, counselor, financial aid officer or community leader provides another reason why an application fee would present a financial hardship.

Once you and your high school counselor fill out the form, submit it to the colleges you are applying to along with your completed application for admission.

Save for the Fees

You can also cover application fees by planning for them and budgeting the expense into your college costs. Tremblay advises students to save “$75 to $100 per year beginning in their freshman year of high school to be prepared for these costs.” And for parents, he adds, “if a student has a job, require them to put aside $25 per month for college application fees.”

Don’t let application fees be a barrier between you and your dream education. With a little planning, research and inquiring, you should be able to cover your fees.

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