Coughing up $35 to $50 to apply for admission to a college can be a burden, especially if you want to keep your options open and apply to half-dozen schools. Fortunately, most colleges will waive the application fees if you can show a financial hardship. The criteria for showing financial burden are similar to those used for the free or reduced lunch program. Many middle-class students can qualify. Even if you are not short of cash, there are many ways to get your fees waived.
Apply for a low-income fee waiver when you sign up to take the SAT or ACT. You must apply for this waiver with your high school guidance counselor. If you qualify for the waiver of test fees, you automatically get up to four application fee waivers that can be used at participating colleges. Most colleges honor these waivers. You can find a complete list of participating colleges at the College Board website. (Also see the Resources section below.)
Look for an application fee waiver form on the website of the college you want to attend. Many colleges have their own guidelines for waiving fees. If you do not find one online, call the college's admission office to see if they can mail you an application to waive fees.
Ask your high school guidance counselor for a standard fee-waiver form or a statement on school letterhead that recommends your application fees be waived. Many colleges do not have official guidelines for waiving fees, but most will accept a recommendation from your counselor.
Find out if a college will waive the application fees for prospective students who attend various on-campus programs. Many colleges will do this, especially for students who attend open houses.
Contact the college to see if there are other circumstances where they will waive fees. Some colleges waive the application fees for students who apply online or apply early. Other colleges waive fees for the children or siblings of alumni. Many colleges will waive fees for students with high test scores or good grades.