College application season is upon us.
That means high school students, transfer students and would-be graduate students all across the country will be busy during the months of November and December polishing their college applications.
Many college applications cost $50 and up, which means that if you or your child applies to 10 different schools, you could quickly shell out $500 bucks just for the chance to attend the college or university of your choice.
In an earlier article, I described in detail how to get a college application fee waiver based on economic need.
But that’s just one strategy.
As I explain in College Secrets for Teens: Money-Saving Ideas for the Pre-College Years, there are eight ways students can get fee waivers for college applications.
A fee waiver will let you apply at no cost to your desired college or university, saving your hard-earned money for other needs.
The eight college application fee waiver strategies are:
Get a fee waiver based on economic need
Get a fee waiver for being a great student
Get a fee waiver for visiting a campus or going to a college fair
Get a fee waiver for applying to or attending a “Fly-In” program
Get a fee waiver for special circumstances
Get a fee waiver for service activities
Get a fee waiver for applying early
Get a fee waiver for being a child of a veteran or a college employee
Here’s an overview of each one of these strategies and how they can help you save hundreds of dollars in college application costs.
Get a Fee Waiver Based on Economic Need
If you need a waiver to submit a college application, you can get one from one of three sources: the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the College Board (which administers the SAT), and the college or university where you want to apply.
In general, you may qualify for an application fee waiver if your annual household income is about $45,000 or so, assuming a family of four. However, qualifying income levels can be more or less than that figure, depending on the number of people in your household.
You can obtain a NACAC fee waiver, called a “Request for Waiver of College Application Fee” form, from your high school counselor.
How to Prove Economic Need for a College Application Waiver
The NACAC form outlines a host of circumstances that make students economically qualified to get waivers for college application fees.
Among those circumstances:
You are eligible to receive an SAT or ACT fee waiver
You are enrolled in or eligible to participate in the free or reduced lunch program at school
Your family income falls within the income Eligibility Guidelines set by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service
You are enrolled in a federal, state or local program that aids low-income students (i.e. TRIO programs, like Upward Bound)
Your family receives public assistance (such as food stamps — nationwide about 47 million Americans, roughly 15% of all citizens, receive food stamps)
You live in federally subsidized public housing, a foster home, or are homeless
You are a ward of the state or an orphan
You face any other challenges that would make paying college application fees a financial hardship
If your school doesn’t have NACAC waiver forms, you can obtain a fee waiver form from the NACAC website.
You can find an online list of schools that accept SAT application fee waivers at the SAT Fee Waiver Directory of Colleges.
Additionally, if you’re planning to attend graduate school, or you’re applying to a professional degree program — such as law school, business school or medical school – you can also get fee waivers for your graduate school applications.
If you received a fee waiver to take an exam, you typically also qualify for fee waivers for graduate school applications.
Get a Fee Waiver for Being a Great Student
If you’re an academic standout, that status can also offer advantages when it comes to college admissions.
Stellar grades — like ranking in the top 10% of your class — will usually put your college application in or near the top of the pile when you’re applying to most colleges. Great test scores and academic honors get noticed too, especially if they’re based on nationwide testing.
Fortunately, there’s one other benefit to being a scholarly student. You may find that some schools will reward you by waiving their application fees just to encourage you to apply.
For example, the University of Maryland grants fee waivers for National Merit, National Achievement, or National Hispanic finalists or semi-finalists and Maryland Distinguished Scholar finalists, semi-finalists, and honorable mention recipients.
Other campuses award application fee waivers to students with a certain minimum grade point average, such as a 3.5 GPA or higher or even a 3.0 GPA or better.
If you are an especially high-achieving student, peruse college websites or call the schools you’re interested in and ask whether fee waivers are available for select scholars.
Get a Fee Waiver for Visiting a Campus or Going to a College Fair
Simply going to visit a campus or attending a college fair may be enough to get you a fee waiver.
Often, college recruiters will pass out special forms or codes you can use while you’re online applying to the school in order to take advantage of the fee waiver.
So anytime you take a campus tour or participate in a college fair, don’t simply skip over the materials on the desks. See whether any of them are fee waivers for applicants.
Get a Fee Waiver for Applying to or Attending a “Fly-In” Program
Certain “Fly-In Programs” offer application fee waivers to students who attend early recruitment programs.
One example is the Future Achievers of Science and Technology, or FAST Programs, at Harvey Mudd College.
Not only are FAST programs absolutely free for selected seniors and juniors, those program participants also receive a fee waiver so they don’t have to pay the school’s usual $70 fee charged for freshman applications.
Even if you don’t get into a Fly-In program, simply applying to attend one of these free campus visits could make you eligible for a college application fee waiver.
That’s the case with Amherst, which gives a fee waiver for its $60 application to students selected to attend the school’s Diversity Open House, as well as students who apply to the Fly-In Program but who are not invited.
The fee waiver is intended to encourage that latter group of students to still consider Amherst and apply to the school.
Get a Fee Waiver for Special Circumstances
If you or a key family member has recently experienced a great financial hardship or a major change in household or economic circumstances, many schools will waive their application fees, as long as you explain and document those circumstances.
Fee waivers can be obtained for issues such as: recent job loss, a death in the family (of a main breadwinner), enormous medical bills, homelessness, personal tragedy, economic complications stemming from natural calamities or other disasters, and more.
These fee waiver requests are evaluated and granted on a case-by-case basis.
Schools also require that a third party, such as a guidance counselor, teacher, school official with knowledge of the student’s extenuating circumstances sign the NACAC form requesting the application fee waiver.
Get a Fee Waiver for Service Activities
You also may be eligible for a waived application fee if you’ve performed any number of service activities and are an alumnus of different service-based groups.
For instance, those who have been in Teach for America, the Peace Corps, Americorps/VISTA, CityYear, or in various fellowships, such as a Truman Public Service Fellowship, can have their college application fees waived.
As a practical matter, service-based fee waivers will typically be utilized by older individuals applying to college, as opposed to teen students coming straight out of high school.
But if you fit the profile and you qualify, do seek your fee waiver as part of an overall strategy to control your pre-college expenses.
To get this kind of fee waiver, contact the schools you’re interested in directly. You won’t be able to use a fee waiver from NACAC.
Non-traditional students are not eligible to use NACAC’s fee waiver form.
This applies to gap year students, transfer students, as well as those opting to defer applying to college instead of immediately attending a college or university right after high school graduation.
Get a Fee Waiver for Applying Early
In the college application process, you can apply for admission during various times.
The college application season has a variety of distinct cycles, the most common of which are known as Regular Decision, Early Decision and Early Action.
Regular Decision simply means that you submit your application during the normal application cycle. This usually occurs in December or January for most schools.
Applying Early Decision is done when you have strong interest in one specific school and you know with certainty that you want to attend that school above all others.
So when you apply Early Decision, you are essentially making a binding commitment that if a school accepts you, you’ll withdraw your other college applications and go to the school that has granted you admission via Early Decision.
Early Decision applications are usually due around November.
Early Action is a similar application process where a student opts to apply early to a school, typically around November or December, but isn’t bound to go to that school if accepted.
Get a Fee Waiver for Being a Child of a Veteran or a College Employee
Some students can qualify for fee waivers on the basis of their parents’ affiliation or job.
For example, certain colleges grant application waivers to veterans, and to children of veterans as well.
Additionally, having a parent who already works at a college or university can be a bonus when it comes to college applications.
A number of post-secondary schools give the offspring of faculty, staff, and administrative personnel a break on college application fees.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to get college or grad school application fees waived.
Hopefully, saving money in this area will put you in the proper mindset to tackle college costs.
Savvy students and parents know that one of the biggest college secrets of all is that for every single cost you encounter – including pre-college expenses, upfront college costs and hidden, back-end fees – there are a range of strategies to either slash those expenses or eliminate them altogether.