Hacking the College Application: How To Apply For FREE

Academic College Life Finances

Can you believe it’s already September? Summer is about to end, school is about to start, and for many students graduation season is fast approaching. This post is for you, high school seniors! If you plan on applying to college, it’s time to start exploring all the different options that are available to you. Believe it or not, college application season is an exciting time! Writing a personal statement, reaching out to your most trusted mentors and teachers, and visiting different campuses are all wonderful experiences that you’ll look back at when you’re older.

Although applying to colleges is a memorable experience, gathering the resources needed to succeed can be stressful, especially if you’re a low-income student. Not only do you have to stress about deadlines and final decisions, you also worry about whether or not you’re going to like a campus that you can’t afford to visit, how you’re going to fill out all those financial background forms on your own, and most importantly: how can I afford to even apply to college in the first place?

I’m a strong believer that the amount of money your parents make shouldn’t determine the opportunities you’re able to access nor the quality of education you’ll receive. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality, and many schools do charge a big fee just to send an application. If you’re like I was, you can’t just ask your parents to pay $150 for every application you send. How, then, can you apply to colleges without limiting your options based on money?

Fortunately, many schools offer and accept fee waivers. Fee waivers allow students of low-income background to skip the application fee, meaning it won’t cost you a cent to send in your app. If you think you fall under that category, keep reading below to see all the different options for applying to college for FREE.

Common Application

If the institution you’re interested in uses the Common Application, and meet any of the requirements below, you’re automatically eligible for a fee waiver. All you have to do it go to your Profile, specify the reason/s why you are eligible, and get your counselor to approve and sign.

You are eligible if you’ve received an SAT/ACT fee waiver, you’re in the Federal Free or Reduced Lunch Program, your family’s annual income falls within the applicable income bracket, your family receives public assistance, you’re enrolled in a program that aids low-income students, you live in public housing/a foster home/are homeless, OR are an orphan. Note that this fee waiver only applies for Common App schools. You can find an info sheet here with more details.

College Board

If eligible, the College Board can grant you up to four (4) application fee waivers that you must e-mail/fax/mail to each school with your application. If you received a fee waiver for your SAT, you’re automatically eligible and receive your fee waivers along with your score.

Click here to find out how to get SAT fee waivers, and click here for College Board fee waiver FAQs.

Coalition for College Access

For colleges that use the The Coalition Application rather than the Common App, you are able to bypass the payment part of your application every single time if you receive free or reduced lunch, participate in a TRIO program, OR qualified for SAT/ACT fee waivers. While The Coalition application is still pretty new, it is accepted by schools “that share a commitment to providing students with the best possible college experience, beginning with the college application process.” Some of these schools include the University of Pennsylvania, Pomona College, Columbia University, and Duke University. For a full list of schools that accept the Coalition application click here. For more details on the fee waivers, click here.

ACT Fee Waivers

If you received a fee waiver for your ACT then you are eligible to receive a Request for Waiver or Deferral of College Admissions Application. While the document itself does not require a school to grant you a fee waiver, . You’re also free to use this form as many times as you want.

Click here for for the 2018/2019 ACT fee waiver details.

National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC)

Similar to the ACT Request for Waiver form, NACAC provides a Request for Admission Application Fee Waiver form that you can send to up to four (4) colleges. Schools are not required to grant you a fee waiver with the submission of this form, however it is a good alternative to paying up front at the time of application. Each form has to be personalized to the school you are sending it to, and a guidance counselor’s signature is required. You can find the form here.

Realize Your College Potential Campaign

Every year College Board selects thousands of low-income students in the top 10-15% of their class to receive personalized packets with information and resources on applying to college. Inside some of these packets, which students receive through the mail, are free additional SAT score reports or additional college application fee waivers. Again, not every student receives additional fee waivers, but the chances are high. Click here to read more about this campaign.

Skip the Fee

There are many schools that do not required an application fee if you complete the process online. By avoiding the application fee you open up your pool of possible college opportunities. Some of these schools include University of Chicago, Oberlin College, St. Louis University, and Wellesley College. Click here for a full list of colleges with NO applications fees.

Reach Out

If, for some reason, none of the options above are available to you, it never hurts to reach out to the school’s admissions team to ask to get your application fee waived. Seriously, just ask. Most schools have the admissions team email available on their website, and some even show the contact information for each of the faculty members. Introduce yourself, explain your financial situation, and kindly ask for a fee waiver. Make sure to explain why you want to apply to that school in particular, and remember to keep it short and sweet.

(Off the record, but the majority of colleges love getting applications. Higher volumes of applications lead to lower admissions rates which, in theory, makes schools seem more exclusive. It’s a win-win situation.)

Need an example?:

Hello, I hope this e-mail finds you well. My name is (insert name) and I am a current high school senior interested in applying to (insert school). I am reaching out in hopes of receiving some help regarding the application fee. While I would really love to apply to (insert school) because of (one or two defining characteristics that most interest you about the school), I am not able to afford the fee due to my current financial situation. Unfortunately, (insert a short sentence or two explaining your financial hardship).

I really want to attend (insert school), and am wondering if your institution grants fee waivers for students facing financial hardships. I know that, if given the opportunity, I will be able to succeed at your institution. I am looking forward to your response, and want to thank you in advance.

Kindest Regards,

(Your name)

Best of luck on your journey!


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