College Application Fee Waivers & Discounts for Students

College application and other fee waivers can save you a ton of money when it comes to getting into college. This guide details the various waivers and provides additional money-saving resources.

Written By

Kathleen Curtis

- Bio

Kathleen Curtis is an American writer currently living in Louisville, Kentucky. She has developed content around education for more than a decade for both domestic and international clients.

last updated

02/02/2022

If you’re thinking about college or are a parent of someone who is, you’re probably aware of the rising cost of higher education. While tuition and housing costs get much of the attention, various other fees also significantly add to the cost of a college degree. Some students spend nearly $4,700 before they even apply to one school when factoring in ACT/SAT exams, test prep courses, tutoring, and AP exams. With the cost of college starting before you even enroll, it’s important to look for ways to save as early as possible.

Luckily, applying to college doesn’t have to break the bank. With so many application fee waivers and other discounts available, money-savvy students can start saving before they even choose their school. Learn how you can become eligible for application fee waivers, discover what other student discounts exist, and find out how else you can save during the college admissions process.

What Are College Application Fee Waivers?

College application fees quickly add up, especially when applying to multiple schools, and some students can afford to only apply to a few. Depending on how many schools you apply to, it’s easy to spend $1,000 or more just on the application process, especially considering that application fees average $43 per application with the top 62 schools averaging $78. Unfortunately, limiting yourself because of application and other fees potentially exposes you to fewer financial aid packages available from schools themselves, which leads to higher overall costs in the long run.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid these charges. Saving money on application fees through college application fee waivers is one way to significantly reduce pre-college costs. Add to that the waivers available for things like standardized tests, and you may be able to expand your savings. This guide looks at the various fee waivers available and who qualifies for them. It also tells you how to find and apply for these waivers in addition to giving you a list of resources to help you along the way.

Types of Fee Waivers & Who Qualifies

College applications are an essential steppingstone, and a solid application can make all the difference in getting into a school and program that will help you reach your career goals. Being efficient and strategic in your application process includes using fee waivers for everything from standardized tests and application fees to travel, meals, and housing. Waivers come from different sources, so what they cover and how to qualify varies. The following is an overview of what exists.

ACT Fee Waiver

The ACT fee waiver allows you to take the exam, including the optional writing test, up to four times. Those who qualify can also access a free, self-paced review course and send score reports to up to six colleges. Some colleges also provide free applications for those who receive this waiver.

Who Qualifies?

You may qualify if you are eligible for the National School Lunch Program, if your family income falls within Income Eligibility Guidelines, or if you participate in a government program supporting low-income students. Additionally, you may qualify if your family receives public assistance, you live in public housing, a foster home, or are homeless, or if you are a ward of the state.

College Board’s SAT Fee Waiver

College Board administers the SAT and provides a fee waiver you apply for through a school counselor or other education professional. It allows students two free SATs and answer services. You can send unlimited score reports and get waived application fees from participating schools.

Who Qualifies?

You may qualify if you are eligible for the National School Lunch Program, if your family income falls within Income Eligibility Guidelines, or if you participate in a government program supporting low-income students. Additionally, you may qualify if your family receives public assistance, you live in public housing, a foster home, or are homeless, or if you are a ward of the state.

You’re eligible if:

  • You are eligible for the National School Lunch Program;
  • Your family income is within Income Eligibility Guidelines;
  • You participate in a government program supporting low-income students;
  • Your family receives public assistance;
  • You live in public housing, a foster home, or are homeless; OR
  • You are a ward of the state.

Online Application Fee Waiver

Some colleges and universities waive their application fees if you submit a digital application rather than mailing a paper copy. At the College of Southern Idaho, for example, all students can take advantage of this perk.

Who Qualifies?

Eligibility depends on individual school requirements. Some schools provide this service to all students while others have additional criteria.

Financial Need Fee Waiver

Recognizing the obstacle that comes with submitting application fees to multiple institutions, some schools provide fee waivers to students who demonstrate financial need. The University of Washington and Northwestern University provide examples of what to look for when seeking this type of waiver.

Who Qualifies?

Eligibility requirements vary based on individual schools. Northwestern, for example, has several qualification criteria.

Alumni Connection Fee Waivers

Also known as legacy waivers, these provide free or reduced application fees for students whose relatives – usually just parents and grandparents – attended the institution. Check with individual schools to be sure though. Cameron University provides an example of what to look for.

Who Qualifies?

Students whose parents or grandparents previously attended participating schools can apply for this waiver. Specific eligibility requirements vary.

Campus Visit Fee Waiver

Some colleges provide waivers for students to visit their campus, either physically or virtually, and this signals a seriousness in their consideration. The University of Richmond and Saint Michael’s College both provide visit waivers as do many other institutions.

Who Qualifies?

Qualification varies by school, so check with any school you want to visit for eligibility.

Academic Excellence Fee Waiver

Students with excellent high school GPAs or high SAT/ACT scores may qualify for an academic excellence fee waiver. Schools don’t always advertise this, so you may have to ask if it’s provided.

Who Qualifies?

Students in the top echelons of their classes or whose standardized test scores are well above the national average may qualify for this waiver.

International Student Fee Waiver

Because international students often face higher costs to study in the U.S., some schools waive their application fees. For example, Brandeis University waives fees for those from developing countries while Harvard University waives them for international students facing financial hardship.

Who Qualifies?

Some schools provide fee waivers to all international students. Others set requirements such as being from a developing country.

Federal Free or Reduced Price Lunch Program Participant Fee Waiver

High school applicants who qualified for the Federal Free or Reduced Price Lunch Program can request an application fee waiver from participating schools. The University of Louisville and the University of Northern Iowa, for example, offer this type of waiver.

Who Qualifies?

Students must supply documentation that they qualified for the Free or Reduced Price Lunch Program offered by the federal government. This waiver is available only at participating institutions.

Public Assistance Fee Waiver

If you or your family received public assistance from local, state, or federal government entities, you can apply for a fee waiver from participating schools. The University of Texas at San Antonio is an example of one school offering this waiver.

Who Qualifies?

Students who prove that they or their families qualify for public assistance funding may qualify for this fee waiver.

Federally Subsidized Public Housing, Foster Home, or Homeless Fee Waiver

Whether you live in federally subsidized public housing or a foster home, you may receive an application waiver. This also applies to students who meet the definition of homelessness. The University of Oregon and the University of Utah both offer this type of waiver.

Who Qualifies?

Schools typically follow federal guidelines for assessing whether a student meets the definition of any of the three housing situations.

Invitation to Apply Fee Waiver

If you speak to a college admissions representative at a school event or get scouted by a sports representative, some schools allow you to apply to the college for free. In this case, they may provide a specialized link or code to enter when submitting your application.

Who Qualifies?

Qualification criteria vary substantially for this type of fee waiver but meeting with college representatives who visit your high school could help secure this waiver.

5 Ways to Get Your College Application Fee Waived

In addition to the fee waivers highlighted above, there are various other fee waivers applicable at a range of colleges and universities. Some fee waivers overlap, and some are unique to a specific college. Even if you don’t qualify for those already discussed, you may still qualify for the ones detailed below.

  1. The College Board Fee Waiver

If you qualified for the SAT waiver provided by College Board, you are automatically eligible for college application fee waivers from participating colleges. Even if a school takes the Universal, Common, or Coalition application, yours is still free. You can apply to as many schools as you want as long as each accepts the application fee waiver. Because a school counselor or other approved administrator already signed off on your SAT waiver and confirmed your eligibility, you do not need approval again. College Board provides a regularly updated list of schools that accept this application fee waiver.

  1. Request Fee Waivers with Common App

Prospective students who qualify for a Common App fee waiver can apply to any school that accepts the Common App without paying an application fee. There is no limit on the number of applications you can submit. You are eligible if you:

  • Received an SAT/ACT fee waiver;
  • Your family income is within Income Eligibility GuidelinParticipated in the Federal Free or Reduced Price Lunch Program;
  • Had an annual family income meeting eligibility requirements set by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service;
  • Received local, state, or federal funding for students from low-income families;
  • Receive public assistance;
  • Are homeless, live in a foster home, or live in subsidized public housing;
  • Are an orphan or state ward; OR
  • Can provide a statement of support from a counselor, community leader, or school official.
  1. Qualify for NACAC Application Fee Waiver

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) provides fee waiver forms for qualifying students to use when submitting college applications. First-time undergraduate students use this form if they meet the eligibility requirements of income for Child Nutrition Programs. They must also complete an application for NACAC and have a school counselor, TRIO representative, or other independent counselor sign off to verify student eligibility.

  1. Find Colleges with Direct Fee Waivers

Some colleges create their own application fee waivers based on factors unique to the institution. These fee waivers may not be advertised, so ask the admissions department if one might be provided based on your circumstances. For example, some colleges provide waivers to in-state students while others favor out-of-state learners, and some offer waivers to those scoring over a certain number on their ACT/SAT or to those possessing a certain GPA.

  1. Find Colleges with Direct Fee Waivers

With so much competition among colleges to recruit students, some institutions have eliminated application fees completely. Others suspended them during the COVID-19 era and kept the policy permanently. Schools with no application fees do not set any eligibility requirements, so all applicants can apply to the institution without paying any application fees. Rhodes College provides one example of a school that waives its application fee. Applying to schools with no application fee is a great way to save you a lot of money.

Resources

This free resource provides tips and pointers to help students navigate the admission process. They also pair students with mentors.

Varsity Tutors provides a wide range of free tools and materials for anyone taking the SAT or ACT

YouTuber Grace Noahmise put together this comprehensive video on how she maximized opportunities for fee waivers when applying to schools.

This video by CollegeVine helps you avoid common mistakes that lead to paying more during the admissions process.

Avoid standardized test scores by attending a college that doesn’t require you to have them.

Dickenson College allows first-year students to apply for free if they first complete a pre-application. Look for other schools offering this.

Rather than hiring an admissions coach to walk you through the application process, learn about it yourself and complete it for free.

If you want to visit prospective colleges but don’t have a travel budget, take advantage of virtual tours provided by You Visit.