How to get college application fee waivers

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Paying for college is already an expensive endeavor, and the application process alone can cost anywhere from $25 to $100 per school. Whether you’re planning to apply to many colleges or just a handful, the cost can add up. College application fee waivers are ways to avoid those application costs, and you may qualify if you have financial need.

How to get a fee waiver for college applications

There are a few different ways to find fee waivers for college applications.

SAT and ACT fee waivers

Qualifying for SAT and ACT fee waivers automatically qualifies you for college application fee waivers through the College Board and on the Coalition, Common and Universal Applications.

Most of the time, you don’t need to complete any extra information to get an SAT or ACT fee waiver; your school counselor will identify eligible students and distribute waivers from there. If you haven’t gotten a waiver and you need one, talk to your guidance counselor.

NACAC fee waivers

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) offers fee waivers to those with an economic need. You’ll need to apply for these waivers using an online form that can be either printed or saved as a PDF. Once you complete the form, it must be signed by a school counselor, a postsecondary support personnel, a principal at your school or an official from a community-based organization. From there, you’ll send the form to your college’s office of admissions.

While the NACAC lists basic eligibility criteria, you may qualify by getting a specific request from a principal, guidance counselor, financial aid officer or other similar official who can vouch for your circumstances.

College financial aid office

If you don’t meet the eligibility criteria for fee waiver programs, it’s worth reaching out to the financial aid offices of the colleges you’re applying to. Some colleges are willing to waive the application fee if you reach out directly and explain your circumstances.

Who qualifies for a college application fee waiver?

Most fee waivers require demonstrated financial need. If you don’t have any financial concerns or issues paying for college applications, you probably won’t be eligible for fee waivers. In general, waivers are available to:

  • Students who currently or have previously gotten free or reduced lunch.
  • Students who are enrolled in a government program for low-income families.
  • Foster children.
  • Residents of subsidized housing or students experiencing homelessness.
  • Students in families with annual incomes that qualify them for the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service.
  • Students who receive public assistance.

If you don’t qualify for a waiver based on need, you could have a high school or college official vouch for you, saying that the application cost would cause a financial hardship.

What happens if you don’t qualify for a fee waiver?

If you don’t qualify for a college application fee waiver, you can still try to limit the amount you have to spend to apply for schools. For one, you can narrow your search to schools that don’t charge you to apply; PrepScholar maintains a list of colleges without application fees that you can reference as you begin your search.

You can also curate your list of colleges to avoid applying to more than you need to. Research approval statistics and financial requirements beforehand to limit your applications to the top schools that you’re truly invested in and likely to be admitted to. College Board recommends applying to five to eight schools, but you can adjust this number as needed.

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Written by
Dori Zinn
Contributing writer
Dori Zinn has been a personal finance journalist for more than a decade. Aside from her work for Bankrate, her bylines have appeared on CNET, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, Wirecutter, Quartz, Inc. and more. She loves helping people learn about money, specializing in topics like investing, real estate, borrowing money and financial literacy.
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Student loans editor