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How to Get a Fee Waiver for College Applications

a female student works on an ipad to complete her common app

You already know that applying to college takes time and effort. But it also takes money. On average, application fees will run you $50 per school, which will add up quickly if you apply to several colleges!

Fortunately, many colleges and universities are willing to dismiss their application fees for students who meet specific criteria. This article will outline the different methods available for requesting and filing a college application fee waiver and help define "financial hardship."

What is a Fee Waiver for College Applications?

Many colleges charge an application fee when students submit their applications for admission. This fee can range from $25 to $100 or more. However, when you have a college application fee waiver, you can apply without paying the application fee.

Some colleges offer fee waivers to students who meet specific criteria. This might mean being a first-generation college student or demonstrating financial hardship or need. In some cases, colleges may also offer fee waivers to students participating in programs like TRIO or Upward Bound. 

Understanding Financial Hardship & Fee Waivers

"Financial hardship" is a pretty simple concept: it means that it is difficult for you or your family to pay for you to go to college.

The hardest part of the financial hardship rule is demonstrating to colleges that you qualify. The four most common things a college will look for to prove financial hardship are the following:

  • Your parents' income compared to your family size and if it falls under a specific dollar amount.
  • You participate in federal programs like Federal Free or Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL).
  • You are enrolled in a TRIO or Upward Bound program.
  • You live in federally subsidized public housing.

If one or more of these criteria fits you, you should apply for an application fee waiver!

3 Ways to Get a Fee Waiver for College Applications

Let's work through your options now, one at a time. 

Fee Wavier Option #1: The SAT or ACT Fee Waiver 

The second method to applying for a college application fee waiver is connected to your SATs.

If you are eligible for an ACT or SAT fee waiver and take one of those tests, you'll get four college application fee waivers (CAFWs) from the College Board. These fee waivers are accepted by colleges and universities nationwide and can be found in your online profile with the College Board. 

If you have not yet taken one of these tests, click here for more information on applying for a fee waiver. Or, if you plan to apply to not test and apply only to test-optional schools, keep reading. 

Fee Waiver Option #2: The Common App Fee Waiver

It's pretty likely that when you apply to the colleges on your list, you'll do so through the Common App. Fortunately, you can request a fee waiver to help alleviate the cost of the application right there in the app. Simply find the Common App Fee Waiver section of your Profile, and request a waiver. Eligibility for this type of waiver includes:

  • You're enrolled in or eligible to participate in the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program.
  • You've received or are eligible for an SAT or ACT fee waiver.
  • You're enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that aids students from low-income families, like TRIO or the Upward Bound program.
  • You're eligible to receive a Pell Grant.
  • Your family receives public assistance, and/or you live in federally subsidized public housing. 
  • You are a ward of the state or an orphan, live in foster care, or are homeless.
  • You can provide a supporting statement from a school official, college access counselor, financial aid officer, or community leader.

Check out the Common App website for additional Fee Waiver information. 

Fee Waiver Option #3: The Coalition App Fee Waiver

To request a fee waiver within the Coalition Application, answer yes to at least one of the "Fee Waiver" questions in your MyCoalition Profile. The list of schools waiving their fee will update automatically based on your answers.

According to the Coalition App website, eligibility criteria include the following:

  • Qualifying for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program
  • Receiving a College Board, ACT, and NACAC fee waiver
  • Being eligible for a Pell Grant
  • Participating in TRIO programs

Check out the Coalition App website linked above for additional information. 

Fee Waiver Option #4: The NACAC Fee Waiver

NACAC, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, is an organization of counselors and experts in the college search and application process nationwide. The organization has developed an easy-to-use fee waiver request form that most colleges and universities accept.

Click below to access the NACAC Application Fee Waiver.

After downloading and printing the form, you will notice two sections that must be filled out. The first section requires you to write your name, address, and signature. The second section, which must be reviewed and signed by your high school guidance or admissions counselor or your after-school program or community organization counselor, requires that you indicate your financial need.

Talk with your counselor or a parent about which financial need indicators apply to you. You only need to include one of the eight choices listed on the form to be considered for a fee waiver.

If you are having a high school counselor fill out the form, ensure they include your high school's official seal in the white box on the bottom right-hand side. If your after-school program or community organization counselor is helping you, they do not need to include a seal.

Fee Waiver Option #5: Check with the College or University 

The final method for applying for a fee waiver is the most self-explanatory. Just ask the college! Call the college admissions office or university you plan on applying to and ask what their fee waiver policy is.

Many schools have straightforward processes for fee waivers and might request you send in a letter from your guidance counselor or mentor explaining your financial situation. 

How to Ask for a Fee Waiver From a College or University

When asking a college for a fee waiver, your communication must be polite and professional. Start by researching the school's fee waiver policy and eligibility requirements to determine if you qualify.

Then, contact the college's admissions office by phone or email and express your interest in applying for a fee waiver. Be sure to provide any necessary documentation, such as proof of financial need, to support your request. If you're unsure what you'll need or how that works, review the top section of this article for a refresher. 

When requesting a fee waiver, you'll need to explain why you are seeking financial assistance and how a fee waiver would help you pursue your academic goals. For example, you could mention the financial hardships your family is facing.

But no matter what you share, remember to be respectful and appreciative of the college's time and resources. Expressing your sincere interest and gratitude can help to make a positive impression and potentially increase your chances of receiving a waiver.

Final Thoughts on Fee Waiver for College Applications

Colleges want to make sure that every student who is academically and personally qualified isn't stopped from applying by a fee. Additionally, many schools strive to attract underrepresented students. So you should use a fee waiver whenever possible to save money on your applications.

If you've worked hard in high school and are serious about getting into college, you should also take advantage of programs like college application fee waiversfly-ins, and scholarships.

At Appily, we have millions of dollars worth of scholarships you can apply for to help bring down the cost of college. Click the button below to create a free account and get personalized scholarship matches today! You'll automatically be entered for the Appily $1,000 Easy Money Scholarship that's awarded each month. 

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