College application fees. They’re high. And going higher.
Stanford University, with its $19 billion endowment, wants you to pay $90 for a chance at a slot in next year’s freshman class. Boston University, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Villanova, USC, and the University of North Carolina will charge you $80 for the same privilege.
George Mason University demands $100 before it will consider your snail-mail application. But file online and the admissions office drops that to $60.
Yes, those are the highest application fees in the land—US News says the 2013 average application fee is $38.79. But fill out your Common App and send it off to 20 schools: Even at the average price, it adds up. And if you’re targeting national universities and highly-selective “trophy colleges,” it’ll add up even faster. On average, those places run $77 a pop.
Fortunately, you’re not stuck if you can’t pay. Here's your step-by-step guide to:
College Application Fee Waivers
“Financial hardship” means that you and your family can't reasonably be expected to pay those college application fees. Simple enough. Of course, you have to qualify for a waiver, and it's up to the college to decide whether you meet their criteria. But many colleges require little more than your assurance that you meet their requirements. In many respects, with many institutions, it's the honor code in action.
Surprised? Don't be. College admissions officers can afford to assume you're playing straight with them for two reasons.
Reason #1: Colleges want your application.
They want your application because, as you might expect, they want to find the best qualified candidates. But many colleges—especially if they're highly-ranked institutions—want your application because they want to look as competitive as they can. The more applications they reject, the more selective they can claim to be. Which, in turn, attracts more highly-qualified applicants drawn by perceptions of prestige and exclusivity.
Harsh as this sounds, it’s true: A college may have no intention of letting you in, but it will be reluctant to discourage you from applying. Quite simply, your application helps make that college look good. So if you're set on applying to The University of Undeniable Awesomeness, here’s all you need to know.
Many schools will qualify you for a "financial hardship" exemption if you meet one of the following four criteria:
1) Your parents' income in relation to your family's size falls within their financial hardship guidelines.
2) You participate in federal programs like Federal Free or Reduced Price Lunch.
3) You are enrolled in a TRIO or Upward Bound program.
4) You live in federally-subsidized public housing.
If any one of these sounds like it might describe your situation, you've got options:
Fee Waiver Option #1: The NACAC Request Form
NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) offers this easy-to-use fee waiver request form accepted by just about every college and university in the United States. Here's the link: NACAC APPLICATION FEE WAIVER
You'll see two sections. The first section asks for your name, address, and signature. The second sets out eight possible reasons why you might need a fee waiver. Pick just one, get your high school guidance or admissions counselor (or an after-school program or community organization counselor) to sign it, and you're good to go.
Fee Waiver Option #2: The SAT Fee Waiver
Get an SAT fee waiver from the College Board and you're automatically eligible for a fee waiver from up to four colleges or universities.
If you haven’t yet taken your SAT, here's the link for information on landing your waiver.
Fee Waiver Option #3: Call the admissions office directly
We can't emphasize this enough: Higher Ed wants (and needs) to pay its bills, and processing college applications costs them money. But it wants your application even more than it wants your application fee. The more applications a college gets, the more applications a college can reject, the higher its rankings, the happier its alumni. Which means more donations...more money.
So, call the college admissions office and ask for a financial hardship waiver. Some schools will grant it on the spot. Some (for example, The University of Chicago) will automatically waive it if you add a request to the Common Application. Others might request a letter from your guidance counselor or after-school activities adviser or pastor or parent or guardian explaining your financial situation. Regardless, there's a very good chance that you'll get it if you ask for it.
About Reason #2...
Yes, it's easier to get your application fees waived than it is to get your tuition reduced. As a practical matter, your application fees may be waived with little more "proof" of financial need than your say-so. But make no mistake: It's not in your interest to "say so" if it isn't true.
We said there were two reasons that college admissions officers could afford to rely on the honor code when granting college application fee waivers. We gave you one. Now here's the other:
Lying would be a really dumb thing to do.
Imagine gaining admittance to a hyper-competitive dream school like Stanford or Yale or The University of Chicago. Now imagine you've lied to get your application fee waived. Now imagine that you find yourself in the exquisitely awkward (and, potentially, felonious) position of having to falsify a tuition financial aid document just for consistency's sake.
Needless to say, that would be a drag.
If you do need those application fees waived, don't hesitate, just ask. And if you're tempted to feel shy about it, remember: When you send in an application, you're doing these colleges a favor. And they know it.