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How to Get a College Application Fee Waiver

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Content was accurate at the time of publication.

Applying to college can get expensive, with some schools charging as much as $100 just to apply. If you can’t afford these fees, don’t worry — you might be able to get a college application fee waiver.

Application fee waivers allow you to apply to college for free, so you can save your money for future school expenses. In fact, you can also get fee waivers for standardized test fees to cut the cost of your college application even further.

What is a college application fee waiver?

College application fee waivers completely cover all your application costs. And there are many colleges that waive application fees if you meet certain eligibility requirements, typically based on income. For need-based waivers you may have to provide proof of your household’s income, just as you would for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Qualifying for a college application fee waiver (and test waivers, too)

Review the following programs to see if you’re eligible for any of them. Although many college application fee waivers have income limits or requirements, not all of them do.

College Board fee waiver

The College Board offers need-based college application fee waiver programs, as well as test fee waivers. If you qualify, you may be able to apply to as many colleges as you want for free.

Application fee waivers are available to low-income students, and you’re automatically eligible if you qualify for an SAT/ACT fee waiver (see below for details). This waiver covers the application fee for more than 2,000 participating schools.

Common App fee waiver

More than 1,000 schools accept the Common App for their standard admission application. With it, students can fill out just one application and submit it to all of the schools on their list.

If you’re approved for the Common App fee waiver, you can use it for as many Common App colleges as you want. As with the College Board’s waiver, if you qualify for an SAT or ACT fee waiver, then you’re also eligible for Common App’s program.

You can apply by going to your Common App profile and completing the Fee Waiver section.

NACAC application fee waiver

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) also offers a college application fee waiver. Here too, the waiver is extended to anyone who would qualify for free SATs or ACTs.

The NACAC waiver requires you to send the application directly to your school of choice. If the school rejects your waiver, it will ask you to pay the application fee.

NACAC recommends using its fee waiver to apply to up to four schools.

Colleges that waive application fees

If you’re ineligible for the programs above, don’t worry — that’s still not the end of the story. There are colleges that don’t charge any application fees, including Colorado College, Wellesley College and Grinnell College.

Alternatively, you might be able to qualify for a fee waiver directly from the college. Many schools also have their own waiver programs, including institutions like Dartmouth College and the State University of New York schools.

Some of these might have more flexible eligibility requirements. For example, Dartmouth offers pre-approved waivers to any military veterans and students who participated in one of their access programs.

If you need a waiver, contact the school’s financial aid office and explain your situation. You might be eligible for programs you didn’t know existed.

SAT and ACT waivers

Application fees are the only costs you face as you try to get into college. Standardized tests —such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the SAT subject tests and the American College Testing (ACT) exam —are unfortunately not free.

However, if you’re a high school junior or senior, talk to your school counselor to find out about getting a waiver for these tests’ fees. You should be eligible for the waivers if you meet one of these college fee waiver requirements:

  • You’re eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
  • Your household income is within the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service’s Income Eligibility Guidelines for reduced-price lunches.
  • You’re enrolled in a federal, state or local program that helps students from low-income families.
  • Your family receives public assistance.
  • You live in a foster home.
  • You’re in a federally subsidized public housing program.
  • You’re homeless.
  • You’re a ward of the state or an orphan.

Note that with the ACT, you can get up to four fee waivers when you sign up for the test. However, if you miss any of the tests you sign up for, you won’t be able to get a replacement waiver.

Some schools don’t offer application fee waivers for international students, but many do. Depending on your situation, you may want to request a Common App fee waiver or see if you’re interested in any schools that waive application fees.

As listed above, if you’re eligible for reduced-cost lunches, you receive assistance from a government program that helps students from low-income families, you’re homeless, an orphan or live in federally subsidized housing, you should qualify for a fee waiver. There may be other ways to qualify for a fee waiver, such as contacting a college directly and explaining your situation.

The average college application fee was just about $45 in 2021, though a few schools had application fees that were in the neighborhood of $100. If you apply to seven or eight colleges, the fees can add up quickly.

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