How can I Avoid College Application Fees?

K. Testa

College application fees can be a financial burden on some students, especially if they plan to apply to several schools. There are options available for averting these costs, but the terms can vary depending on the institution. Some common ways that an applicant might avoid fees include proving economic hardship, applying to colleges online, attending certain programs on campus, and being the child or sibling of a graduate. Prospective students usually have to check with the individual schools in which they are interested, as well as with their school guidance counselors, in order to determine their eligibility for fee waivers.

Many colleges and universities will waive application fees provided students meet certain requirements.
Many colleges and universities will waive application fees provided students meet certain requirements.

College application fee waivers are frequently available to students from low-income families, who can demonstrate that their earnings are below a certain level and that paying college application fees would be an economic hardship. U.S. students who have qualified for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT®) Fee-Waiver Service can usually also apply for college application fee waivers. Students are typically allowed waivers for a maximum of four applications to schools that participate in the program. To do so, the student usually needs to request a signed statement of eligibility from his or her guidance counselor.

Some colleges will accept a letter from a student's guidance counselor to have the college application fee waived.
Some colleges will accept a letter from a student's guidance counselor to have the college application fee waived.

Furthermore, when students apply to colleges online, they can often have their college application fees waived. In a sense, the college is rewarding the applicant for saving them time and reducing their paperwork by submitting his or her application electronically. Students can check the guidelines for the specific colleges to which they are applying in order to determine if they can waive the application fees by applying online.

Some institutions reduce or waive fees if prospective applicants attend special information sessions or diversity programs, for example. Others offer fee waivers just for visiting the campus in person prior to applying. They also might waive fees for applicants in certain situations, such as being active in the military or another form of public service. Children and siblings of alumni at certain schools can also sometimes have their college application fees waived. Often called a legacy waiver, it might also be granted to an applicant whose parent won a particular award from the institution.

In many cases, simply meeting certain application deadlines could result in waived or reduced fees. When trying to avoid paying college application fees, a common first step is to consult with one’s guidance counselor for advice. In some instances, the applicants might need to submit documentation that they are from low-income families, for example. Otherwise, students can contact college admissions offices on their own to inquire about such waivers.

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Discussion Comments


@Logicfest -- I don't know. There are times when students will want to take that "shotgun approach" and apply to several different colleges. The tactics to have application fees waived will be appreciated by them.

When would a student want to apply to a lot of colleges? Let's say you have one with great grades and high ACT and SAT scores. That student might want to see if he or she can get into an Ivy League school while seeing which ones closer to home will offer the best scholarship package.

Like it or not, there is a certain amount of gamesmanship that goes into picking a college. Students want to find the best institutions they can afford and that often means applying to a number of schools and trying to get scholarships. For those outstanding students, picking three colleges and applying to them might not be enough for them to find which school offers the biggest, best deal.


@Markerrag -- Good advice and I have some more. Students should narrow down their college choices to no more than, say, three schools so they can keep those app fees low even if they cannot get those fees waived.

That means spending a lot of time researching, going to college fairs, visiting campuses and all those other things that come with the very important decision of choosing a college to attend. If you research and prepare, you should be able to cut down on the number of colleges you apply to because you will find a few that just fit what you need.


A word to the wise is in order here. If students want to do things like see about getting college application form fees waived, that process should start early. By early, I mean students should start those things in their junior years. That shows s certain amount of earnestness and responsibility and colleges like that.

And, of course, that means that students should take their ACT and/or SAT entrance exams early so they can actually apply. Taking those exams early has another advantage. Students who don't do so well right out of the gate have time to take those tests again as many times as necessary.

And high ACT or SAT scores can mean better scholarships to help offset high college tuition prices.

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