The First College Application Deadlines Are Fast Approaching. Here’s How to Save on Fees

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News flash: college is expensive. 

Even the hope of financial aid lies behind fees for just submitting an application. And this year those fees may seem even more insurmountable in the face of economic hardship brought on by the pandemic. 

Many colleges and universities across the United States are approaching the November deadlines for early applications, which kicks off the application cycle for students starting college in fall 2021. 

Early deadlines mean students will hear back from universities sooner, and can also sometimes up a student’s chances of acceptance. Deadlines for regular acceptance usually begin around Jan. 1, with some universities even offering rolling admission into July. 

In 2019, the average cost to submit an application to a college was $44. For a student who applies for as many as 10 colleges, the cost of applying quickly gets into the hundreds of dollars.

With many high schools operating remotely during the pandemic, some students may not have access to the normally-available resources they need to help them through the application process, or to talk through options for getting assistance with fees.

“Students’ access to good counseling right now is limited at best, and may be unavailable to some entirely,” says Jayne Fonash, who is just finishing her term as president of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC). 

A lack of college counseling this year is especially troublesome as many of the rules of the game in college admissions have changed. For example, with some SAT and ACT test centers closed, many colleges have chosen to forgo requiring standardized testing, meaning higher importance is placed on other parts of students’ applications. 

“There are uncertainties on all sides, for admissions folks, for high school counselors, and especially for kids,” says Fonash.  “All of us are stepping through an unpredictable year.”

What you can control, however, is your own college application experience, and there are sure-fire ways to reduce your cost of applying this year. In fact, it may be one of the cheapest years to apply as many schools are not requiring submission of standardized test scores. It costs $52 to take the SAT, excluding the essay portion, which costs more.

But even without a standardized test, forking over $44 or more per school application can be “a brick wall” for some students, says Fonash. Here’s what you can do to knock it down: 

How to Reduce Your College Application Expenses

There are many programs and other ways to bring down fees, and the first place you should start is with the resources offered by your school. 

1. Connect With Your Counselor

Your high school counselor will have the most information available to help you through the college application and fee waiver process. Most fee waivers will require you to send your application to your counselor for approval anyways, so start there first. 

2. Request Fee Waivers

There are several ways to request a fee waiver for your college application:

Request a Common Application waiver: The Common App is a universal application to more than 900 schools. You can request a waiver for its associated fee in the ‘fee waiver’ section of your profile. The Common App offers a list of qualifiers that may indicate whether or not you will receive the waiver. 

Contact the school: Email the college’s admissions office and ask for a waiver. They may give you a form to fill out or further guidance on how to go about requesting a waiver for their specific application.

Use the NACAC application fee waiver form: The NACAC offers an application fee waiver form that you can send to schools. Make sure to follow these instructions

Get a standardized test waiver: If a school you’re applying to requires standardized testing and you’ve yet to take one — which you could still do and include with an application by regular decision deadlines — apply for a fee waiver for the test. This will also then qualify you for application fee waivers when you’re ready to apply. The SAT and ACT sites offer more information about how to request test fee waivers.

3. Be Critical of Your List

If you don’t qualify for an application fee waiver but are still struggling with the costs of applying, you should consider paring down your list.  

“I shudder when I hear of students that applied to 15 or 20 schools,” says Fonash. 

In general, Fonash recommends applying to no more than 10 schools, though she’s found that number may be creeping up as the uncertainty of this application cycle has made students nervous about their prospects. 

“I think students can have a slightly longer application list because they’re not as sure about what the outcomes will be,” says Fonash. “But still don’t be crazy with it.”

Within a list of around 10 schools, you should apply to two or three you’re pretty positive you’re going to get in based on your grades— commonly known as safety schools. Look at the statistics of the past year’s incoming class and make sure your GPA and test scores, if available, are well within, or better— above, those given metrics. 

Then apply to another two or three that it’s more likely you’re going to get in, but you’re not as sure. Then you can apply to a couple of reach schools, where your chances of getting in are slimmer.

4. Consider Alternatives

Community colleges 

Some community colleges offer lower application fees than traditional universities, and you can also request waivers. Community colleges can help you save on the total cost of your college education, and can be a great place to start for many students.

“If a student’s not ready to leave home, if you have financial concerns, if you want to work while also going to school, if you don’t have a specific major in mind, I’d say community college is a fantastic place to start,” says Fonash. 

You can also request to transfer to a four-year school later. Skip the transfer application fee by using the NACAC’s waiver form.

No application fee colleges

There are colleges and universities that do not require any application fees. Consider adding a few to your mix of college applications for no additional cost. 

After Applying

After you submit your college apps, there’s a crucial next step in your journey: apply for scholarships and fill out your free application for federal student aid (FAFSA). You should wait to fill out your financial aid form until you’ve been accepted to a college or university, and you will have to reapply every year to continue receiving aid. 

Students in exceptional financial need may be eligible for a Pell Grant, which does not have to be repaid, and has a maximum award of $6,345. The first step to receiving a Pell Grant is to fill out your FAFSA form. 

After you’ve been admitted to a college or university, filled out your FAFSA form, applied for scholarships, and maybe received aid, you’ll have to put down a deposit to hold your spot. If you need, you can request an enrollment deposit fee waiver here.