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With college application fees nearing one hundred dollars for some institutions, it seems astonishing when you hear of people who have applied to 20 (or 43) or more colleges. However, in the majority of these cases, these applicants had one simple tool to deal with the daunting price tag of college apps: college application fee waivers.

College application fee waivers exist in many forms. The College Board, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), and even the Common App itself offer their own fee waivers for college applications. In addition, some universities offer their own fee waivers that are specific to their own institutions.

Although fee waivers are extremely helpful, there are certain eligibility requirements that must be met in order for a student to receive a waiver. The most common requirement for a fee waiver is the ability to show that paying for college is a financial hardship for you and your family. Some ways that financial hardship is demonstrated are receiving an SAT or ACT fee waiver, being eligible for Free or Reduced Price Lunch, and being under certain income levels based on how many people are in your family.

The Common App

The most useful fee waiver, in my opinion, is the Common App fee waiver, which can be applied to as many of the over 500 Common App member institutions you apply to. Embedded into the Common App, there is a section that asks if you qualify for a fee waiver. Simply by checking the box, you allow Common App to send your guidance counselor a notification regarding your fee waiver request. After that, your guidance counselor fills out a form confirming that you are indeed eligible for a fee waiver. This is one of the easiest fee waivers, since once your counselor confirms that you are eligible, you don’t have to do anything else. When you submit your application via the Common App, the payment will automatically be waived.

The College Board

If you’re a fee waiver veteran, meaning you’ve used fee waivers before for taking the SAT and SAT subject tests, then you’re in luck! The College Board offers four college application fee waivers to students who have already used a fee waiver for a standardized test. Since your guidance counselor already confirmed your eligibility for an SAT fee waiver, you do not need to be approved again. These waivers will appear on your College Board account, and you will be able to send them online.

In addition, the College Board also has a program called “Realize Your College Potential.” During the college admissions season, certain students are mailed packets that include several fee waivers that you can mail to participating institutions. Although it isn’t clear how they choose who to send these waivers to, they seem to be targeted toward low-income students.


The last of the major fee waivers is the NACAC fee waiver. These are fee waivers that need to be mailed directly to the school you are applying to. In order to use the NACAC fee waiver, the fee waiver form must be filled out by a school official and have your school seal or stamp on it. Although the NACAC has a recommended limit of four fee waivers per person, it is up to the discretion of the school official. If your guidance counselor is willing, you can use as many of them as you wish.

When you’re using any of the above fee waivers, make sure to check and see if the institution you’re applying to accepts that certain fee waiver. Although many colleges participate in these fee waiver programs, there are some exceptions. For example, all schools in the University of California (UC) system do not accept any of the aforementioned fee waivers. Rather, when you are filling out the UC application, your income and family size is used to determine your eligibility. If you are eligible, you will automatically receive four fee waivers. In the case of the UC institutions, there are more than four, which means that you have to pay for any additional UC school you apply to. Although not all universities will be like this, it would behoove you to check the websites of the universities you apply to in order to avoid any potential mishaps.

Fly-In Programs

One other method to obtain a fee waiver is by applying to fly-in programs. From my experience with fly-in programs, some programs are willing to send you a fee waiver (regardless of whether you were accepted or rejected), simply because you took the time to apply. This is a useful way to waive a college application fee if you may not demonstrate financial hardship based on the College Board, NACAC, or Common App criteria. Not all fly-ins will do this, but it’s definitely worth a shot (and you might get to visit a college for free)!

If you’re thinking about applying to a lot of schools, fee waivers are your best friend. One final thing to note related to fee waivers is to make sure you are in communication with your guidance counselor. Your guidance counselor will be the person who completes the forms for you, so make sure that he or she is aware of your financial situation. Don’t be afraid to talk to your guidance counselor. From my personal experience, I bugged my counselor all the time. Even though she had almost 900 seniors to guide through the process, she was always willing to talk to me and assist me through everything. Since she knew about my situation, she was able to fill out my fee waiver application without a problem.

With that said, happy college admissions season! May the college application odds be ever in your favor.

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the author

Benjamin Din is a student at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where he is studying journalism and the mathematical methods in the social sciences (what does that even mean?). When he's not writing for The Prospect, he can be found on Twitter as he tries to build his social media presence. For more information, check out his website.

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