Five hundred dollars to apply to college? That’s what my high school senior almost spent. No, she didn’t fall for some Internet scam. Instead, at one point she had a list of 10 prospective colleges. With each school charging $50 or so to apply, we were likely going to spend more on college applications than books her first semester on campus.
Then we discovered that even though many colleges and universities list an application fee on the admissions web page, there are ways that your son or daughter can avoid an application fee. Yes, that’s right, it is possible to apply to college for free.
With Early Action and Early Decision deadlines right around the corner — some as early as October 15th — now is a great time for parents to figure out how to save some dough when their children apply to college this fall.
Here are five ways we discovered that your son or daughter can apply to college for free.
- Apply online. It’s hard to believe that in this day and age of the Common Application that students still apply to college using a paper application and snail mail. With this option there is nearly always an application fee. However, many colleges encourage their students to go paperless and will waive the fee if you apply using the online application. While not every college on my daughter’s list offers this fee-free option, I know that Bryn Mawr College does — something we learned during an admissions seminar at the school in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Two other Pennsylvania schools allow you to skip a fee by using their online application — Misericordia University in Dallas and York College of Pennsylvania. Also waiving the fee when students apply online are Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio; Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina; and Milwaukee School of Engineering in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
- Apply early. With most regular admission college applications due around the first of the year, some schools offer the incentive of no application fee when you apply before a certain date. You don’t even have to apply Early Action or Early Decision to qualify. Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, is free to apply to if students submit an online application before November 1. Similarly, Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida waives the $40 application fee for students who apply before December 1. “About 2,000 students take advantage of it each year,” says John Sullivan, director of admissions at Eckerd.
- Use alumni connections. Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts, waives the $40 application fee for the children and grandchildren of alumni. They’ll also waive the application fee when an alumnus provides a letter of recommendation, regardless of the prospective student’s relationship to the alum. It doesn’t hurt to call your own college or university alumni association to find out if there is any fee waiver that your children could qualify for if they decide to apply to your alma mater.
- Visit the campus. Many colleges will reward your son or daughter with a “get out of our application fee” card when you go on a tour, meet with an admissions officer or simply check in at the admissions office during a visit. That’s what McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland, does — it will waive the application fee if you schedule an official visit to the campus through the Admissions Office before you apply. During Virginia Private College Week each July, high school students who visit at least three of the 25 participating Virginia colleges — including the University of Richmond, Roanoke College and Washington & Lee University — receive up to three application waivers. I wish we’d known this when we took our daughter to see the University of Richmond.
- Demonstrate financial need. If your family has a demonstrated financial need — such as qualification for free- or reduced-price lunch, or other financial support services during the high school years — your child’s guidance counselor can likely help you find ways to get application fees waived. “Sometimes it’s a letter from the guidance counselor vouching for the financial need of the student,” says Steven Coleman, director of admission at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Adds Nicole Curvin, dean of admissions at Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vermont, “We’re sensitive to the expense that families incur during the college application process. We do waive the application fee for students or families who let us know that it would be a hardship.” Even big schools like the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, will waive the fee for families who show they can’t afford the $40 charge.
With my daughter currently leaning towards applying early decision to her top school, now our application fee expense has shrunk to only $50 –the cost of applying to this one college, which, unfortunately, doesn’t waive the fee if she applies online.
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