Apply for Free: College Application Fees and Fee Waivers

Can you apply to college for free? Find out how fees and waivers work for college applications.

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Ask any student in the midst of the college application process and you will quickly find out that the words "free" and "paying for college" aren't likely to appear in the same sentence.

In fact, many students don't apply for college because of an overriding fear that the costs related to a higher education will become too expensive. But many college application experts agree that there are methods for applying to college that require little to no cost. Push fear aside and learn how to save some cash with these tips for lowering your college application fees.

1. Assess Family Income

"Applying to multiple colleges can be expensive!" said Ryan Clark, a leading college expert and author of "College Aid for Middle Class America: Solutions to Paying Wholesale vs. Retail." "Those families that are on the lower end of the economic scale may be eligible for an application fee waiver."

Clark recommends consulting the National Association for the College Admission Counseling for a financial hardship waiver form that can be completed by a student with the help from his or her high school counselor. While family income plays a role in the waiver, "the counselor’s personal knowledge of the family’s circumstance also comes into play," Clark said.

Kevin Campbell, president of College Planning Authority, pointed out a few things students should keep in mind during this process, including that, "suggested annual family income guidelines for this waiver depend on family size."

"The waiver can be used at a maximum of four schools," he added. "Each institution makes the final decision to accept or decline fee waiver forms. If a fee waiver is declined, the student will be asked, by the institution, to pay the application fee."

2. Check Waivers for Online Applications

According to, Meredith Principe, vice president of operations and college counseling at Campus Bound, some colleges waive application fees for students who apply online. What's more, she said, colleges may waive application fees for students who apply early, who use a school-specific application, or who have visited the campus, among other reasons.

"Check with each college to see if they have any fee waiver opportunities for which you might qualify," Principe said.

Keep in mind that some schools will also waive application fees for children or siblings of alumni.

3. Attend College Fairs

"For families without financial hardships, attending college night, or college fairs can introduce you to many colleges you may not know about, and many of them will offer you application fee waivers," Campbell said.   

Clark recommends staying on the lookout for a College Application Week that is often offered in many states.

"For example, in North Carolina all of the 110 North Carolina colleges and universities accept the College Board fee waiver for students who qualify," he said, referring to the waiver that is granted to students who have received the College Board's SAT® Fee-Waiver Service (which covers the basic test fees for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests™ and may also qualify for up to four application fee waivers for colleges).

"Most importantly, many of these same colleges and universities will waive the application fee for all North Carolina graduating seniors that week."

Clark also said he has found many private colleges will also waive the application fee for students who visit the school. What’s the bottom line? A little research and investigative digging can make all the difference when assessing the bill that will be attached to college application fees. And with the right amount of work, the process can become as simple as the college saying, "Hey, this one is on us!"

Quick Tips

  • Assess family income and consult the NACAC for an application fee waiver form.
  • Find out if a college or university waives fees for online applicants or children of alumni.

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What Do I Need to Complete My Application?
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