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How to Reduce the Cost of Applying to College

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Jess Mosley College Coach

Written by Jess Mosleyon November 15th, 2023

Prior to working at College Coach, I worked in financial aid at selective private colleges, where I developed my expert knowledge of institutional financial aid methodology and needs analysis that these types of institutions use to determine a student’s financial need. These positions allowed me to manage a variety of financial aid programming, including Financial Wellness, Loan Repayment Education, Federal Work Study, and Study Abroad. I’ve worked closely with student groups that support first generation and low-income backgrounds, acting as a liaison to college leadership to support student needs and remove barriers to aid and information for students of all backgrounds. Within the Oregon Association of Financial Aid Administrators, I spent many years leading the state conference, planning and designing educational programming for financial aid professionals. I have also volunteered as a presenter at many local high schools and on my college campuses, and assisted individual families through the aid process and FAFSA nights.
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by Jess Mosley, former financial aid officer at University of Chicago The cost of applying to multiple colleges can add up quickly! As reported by the National Association for College Admission Counseling in 2019, the average fee for each college application submitted is $50. This fee is used to help colleges cover the cost of processing applications; think staffing and technological support. However, colleges and application organizations know that this cost can be a significant barrier for students, leading some schools to eliminate their fee altogether, or waive the fee automatically for students who state they will apply for financial aid. You can review the list of over 500 schools that have eliminated their application fee through the Common App’s College Search tab (this requires creating a free account, with options for parents, too). From this tab, select the More Filters option, and under Application Fee, check the box for No fee for domestic applicants (U.S. Citizens). Using the College Search tab, you can also search for individual schools to see how much they charge individually. Most institutions provide the option to apply for a fee waiver. A fee waiver eliminates the cost of the application and is typically reserved for families that can demonstrate financial hardship. Fee waivers can be obtained through a high school counselor or directly from a college’s admissions office, which will typically be granted using one of the following qualifications:
  • Enrolled in or eligible to participate in the federal free or reduced-price lunch program
  • Received or are eligible to receive an SAT or ACT fee waiver
  • Annual family income falls within the income eligibility guidelines set by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service
  • Student’s family receives public assistance
  • Enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that aids students from low-income families (such as GEAR UP or TRIO)
  • Living in a federally subsidized public housing, a foster home, or are homeless
  • Considered ward of the state or an orphan
  • Received or are eligible to receive a Pell Grant
If you don’t meet any of those criteria, you can still request a waiver from the schools directly. Once you’ve received the waiver—typically you’ll be provided a request form—you will be asked to submit it during the application process. For students using the University of California application, the fee waiver will be automatically applied to up to four schools if your family income and size is within specific guidelines. For students applying to schools that require the CSS Profile, a supplemental financial aid application through the CollegeBoard, each college you submit to comes with a cost as well. The cost for the first institution is $25 and, for each additional school, you will be charged $16. The CSS Profile will waive the fees if your family meets any of the following criteria:
  • Family adjusted gross income is up to $100,000.
  • The student qualified for an SAT fee waiver.
  • The student is an orphan or ward of the court under the age of 24.
As for the FAFSA – remember it will always be free, as that’s part of the full name: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid!

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