College Made Cheaper: Acquiring Common App Fee Waivers

The college application process, already made strenuous with grueling essays and the plethora of financial aid forms, poses another obstacle at its very first stage: the application fee. While the amount of each application fee ranges from college to college, the bundles of cash that the average student drops can range anywhere from $50 to even $90 per school. This financial barrier is no doubt a living nightmare for students everywhere, especially for those coming from low-income families. Thankfully, the burden can be alleviated by fee waivers, similar to those for standardized exams like the SAT and ACT. Though limited in number, the fee waivers allow qualifying students to select up to eight colleges for which they can process their applications free of charge.

Usually, your high school guidance counselor processes these fee waivers for you. However, in schools with very large student populations, it often isn’t feasible for a single guidance counselor to check and approve the fee waiver qualifications of every student. Things then start to get very stressful as those responsibilities pile on the student instead. Without a concrete support network of students in a similar boat (after all, financial situations tend to be a private matter), it’s very easy to get lost on the Internet, trying to figure out ways of accessing those crucial forms. Allow us to give you, the student, a quick run through of how to access these fee waivers in just a few clicks!

First and foremost, be sure to check out any fee waiver info posted on the college’s website. Understandably, each college has its own criteria for accepting fee waivers, and it’s imperative that you know those rules prior to submitting anything. Afterwards, consider reaching out to the admissions office of each college you’re applying to via email to describe your financial situation and politely ask if there’s a way for them to waive your application fee. Some colleges may automatically waive your fee so long as you check off the appropriate box on the online Common App—they’ll just keep the record on file, saving you a fee waiver form. Remember that it’s important to communicate with administration officers first before assuming all colleges are generous enough to do this, since this may be decided on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, some colleges may have their own fee waiver applications available on their website, so check for those as well.

Your next step would be to check your eligibility status for fee waivers from the College Board and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). As a rule of thumb, if you were eligible for fee waivers for the SAT and ACT, then you’re automatically qualified for four Common App fee waivers from each organization, giving you a total of eight!

The College Board gives a thorough overview of all the qualifying factors for your eligibility; you only need to qualify for at least one of the criteria listed on the website. Aside from being eligible for SAT fee waivers, other possible criteria include: you receive free/reduced lunch from your school through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), your family receives public assistance through federal, state, or local programs, and/or your family income falls within the guidelines set by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. Keep in mind that not all colleges accept these types of fee waivers. To check the status of any particular college, check out the College Board’s nifty search function, which also indicates their in-state and out-of-state policies along with any special instructions provided by the college. When logging onto your College Board account, there should already be a weblink on your SAT information page that provides the unique code of each fee waiver. If you don’t have access to these codes and forms, or if you feel that you’re eligible for these fee waivers despite not having access to them, you should reach out to the College Board directly.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling utilizes the same guidelines for students who wish to use their application fee waivers. As with the College Board, NACAC’s fee waivers are only approved for students who meet those same criteria of economic need. These guidelines are found on the fee waiver form available online, which requires your guidance counselor’s signature to verify your financial status. While NACAC only expects students to utilize four fee waivers, there may be situations where the organization may approve the use of additional ones so long as you communicate with them directly.

Once all your application fee waivers have been verified, you can either scan and email a copy of the waiver itself or mail it to the colleges directly, based on what they prefer. It’s smooth sailing from there on!

And that’s about it! As daunting as the search for key forms may be during the college application process, we hope that these quick resources will be effective in saving you money needed for other important expenditures.

We’re rooting for you!