Fee waiver for students with need
Limited finances do not have to prevent students from applying to college, because many schools will waive application fees for students who can demonstrate financial need. Many people who are eligible for need-based fee waivers don't know they are, so it’s worth checking it out. If you received an SAT/ACT fee waiver or are eligible for the free and reduced lunch program, you will also be able to get an application fee waiver from most universities. Eligibility requirements for these programs can be found here. You can also check with your child’s high school guidance counselor to verify eligibility.
If you are eligible, you will need to fill out a fee waiver form from the National Association of College Admissions Counseling. The form can be found here. Make sure that you get all necessary signatures from your child’s high school before sending the form to the university so it won’t be rejected, which will slow the application process down.
A list of schools that accept a need-based fee waiver can be seen here, but don't despair if your school of choice is not on the list. Try calling the admissions office and explaining your situation.
If you are unable to get a need-based fee waiver you may still be able to cut down on your application costs. Here are some strategies to try:
Paper applications cause more work for the school since they have to be scanned into the computer, so many universities automatically waive or reduce the application fee for students who apply online. At George Mason University the application fee is $100 if you plan on using a paper application, but only $60 if you apply online.
Some schools will waive application fees for students who apply early. Last year a college in my area waived the fee for applications as long as they were received by the end of October. The other advantage of applying early is that you may hear back much sooner. When I applied early to Michigan State University, I got my acceptance letter in November while many of my friends had to wait until the spring to know where they would be going the next year. This alone saved me money in application fees because I didn’t have to waste time and money cultivating backup options when I knew I already had my first choice.
Visit colleges in person
Some colleges will reward you with an application fee waiver if you visit them in person, but just showing up is usually not enough to get a free application. Make sure you register for an official visit, and while you are there, ask if they offer any fee waivers. You can see a short list of some colleges that offer free applications to students who visit here.
Attend college fairs
Colleges that attend informational fairs are in heavy competition with each other—they know the students who are attending are probably just starting to think about where they might want to attend college. They will often offer a free application to students who attend these events to entice prospective students. Even if they do not advertise a free application, make sure you ask if one is available if you see a school that interests you, since it may be more difficult to get one later.
You may be able to get your application fee waived if you meet other special criteria. The University of Brandeis waives application fees for Peace Corps volunteers while all California schools have fee waivers for children of disabled veterans. Some schools will accept free legacy applications if you have a parent or grandparent who is an alumnus, while others will try to draw highly-credentialed applicants by waiving fees. There is no one place to look for a complete list of fee waivers, so your best bet is to ask an admissions officer what programs are available.
One great way to cut down on application fees is to limit the amount of applications that are sent out in the first place. Many students use a shotgun approach and incur application fees they may not need to by applying to schools that are not a good fit for them. Before applications are sent out, the student should think about what sort of school they want to attend—whether it be a large research institution, smaller liberal arts college, or private religious school. They should also consider what they want to study, since a school that does not offer a program in a student's area of interest is not a great fit even if it is located across the street. Knowing what you want and making a plan can help you save both the time and money associated with filling out unnecessary applications. It is worth noting that some students will need to send out many applications. Students who are trying to get a significant amount of scholarship money may need to cultivate more options. This is also true of students who want to attend a reach school. There is no hard and fast rule for how many applications a student should send out, and for most students their best option is to have early and frequent conversations with their guidance counselor.
This is a guest post by April from Grand Blanc, MI
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