College Secrets for Teens by Lynnette Khalfani-Cox

How To Get College or Grad School Application Fees Waived

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, meaning if you or your child applies to 10 different schools, you could quickly shell out $500 just for the chance to attend the college or university of your choice.

In another article, I described in detail how to get a college application fee waiver based on economic need.

But that’s just one strategy.

A fee waiver will let you apply at no cost to your desired college or university, saving your hard-earned money for other needs.

As I explain in College Secrets for Teens: Money-Saving Ideas for the Pre-College Years, students can get fee waivers for college applications in eight ways. 

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 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 exceptional 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

Suppose you need a waiver to submit a college application. In that case, 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.

Generally, 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
  • Do 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 plan to attend graduate school or apply to a professional degrees program — such as law school, business school, or medical school – you can also get fee waivers for your graduate school applications. For example, 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, 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 visiting campus or attending a college fair may be enough to get you a fee waiver.

Often, college recruiters will pass out particular forms or codes you can use while applying to the school online 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. Instead, 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 free for selected seniors and juniors, but those program participants also receive a fee waiver, so they don’t have to pay the school’s usual $70 fee charged for first-year 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

Suppose you or a key family member has recently experienced a great financial hardship or a major change in household or economic circumstances. In that case, 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 a third party, such as a guidance counselor, teacher, or school official with knowledge of the student’s extenuating circumstances, to 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 alum 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 instead of teen students coming straight out of high school.

But if you fit the profile and qualify, 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 at 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 means submitting your application during the regular application cycle. This usually occurs in December or January for most schools.

Applying for Early Decision is done when you have a strong interest in one specific school and know with certainty that you want to attend that school above all others.

So when you apply for Early Decision, you are 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 attend 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 based on their parents’ affiliation or job.

For example, specific colleges grant application waivers to veterans and children of veterans.

Additionally, having a parent who already works at a college or university can be a bonus for college applications.

Several post-secondary schools give the offspring of faculty, staff, and administrative personnel a break on college application fees.

Case in point: Within the California State University system, those 23 campuses waive their customary application fees for children of full-time and permanent part-time university employees.

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 is that for every single cost you encounter – including pre-college expenses, upfront college costs, and hidden, back-end fees – there is a range of strategies to either slash those expenses or eliminate them.

What is a Common App fee waiver?

How do I get a Common App fee waiver?

The Common App fee waiver program allows students to apply to college without paying the application fees. This fee waiver can be applied for by students who meet certain criteria, such as financial need, military service, or affiliation with a partner organization. If a student qualifies for the Common App fee waiver, they will not have to pay any of the application fees associated with their

Can international students use a Common App fee waiver?

Yes, international students can use a Common App fee waiver. The process for applying for a fee waiver is the same as for domestic students. However, there are additional criteria that international students must meet to qualify for the waiver. These include demonstrating financial need, being part of a partner organization or program, or have previously applied for financial aid from the institution to which they are applying. Additionally

What can I do if I don’t meet the Common App fee waiver criteria?

If you don’t meet the criteria to receive a Common App fee waiver, some options are still available to reduce or eliminate the cost of applying. Many colleges offer additional fee waivers if you can demonstrate financial need. To qualify for such waivers, students may have to provide proof of their family income or submit copies of tax returns from recent years. Additionally, some colleges waive fees for all students.

Does it look bad on my application if I apply for a fee waiver?

No, applying for a fee waiver does not look bad on your application. Colleges understand the financial burden of applying to college, and many are willing to assist students who need it. Applying for a fee waiver is simply a way to demonstrate that you need help with college costs, and it will not be held against you in the admissions process. In fact, some colleges even offer additional scholarships to those who request fee waivers.

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