How to avoid college application fees

College application fees can be expensive. Here are three options for avoiding these costs and applying to college for free. (iStock)

Most people know attending college can be very expensive, but it may come as a surprise to find the costs start well before you write your first tuition check. In fact, according to a survey of 936 ranked colleges conducted by U.S. News and World Report, the average application fee is $44. Among the 62 most expensive schools, average fees came in at $78, with some institutions charging upwards of $100.

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Paying these high application fees can be a serious financial hardship, especially if you're applying to multiple schools. The good news, however, is you have a few different options for avoiding these costs so your efforts to get into the right school won't be derailed by the price of being considered for admission.

Awaiting college admission and preparing for school can be stressful. If you don't qualify for a federal student loan and need some help paying for college, don't stress. Credible can help you compare student loan lenders and find the lowest rates available with their free online tools.

3 ways to avoid college application fees

Here are three ways you can apply for school without paying a fortune:

  1. Ask for a fee waiver form
  2. Apply to a college with no application fee
  3. Appeal to the college to waive the fees

1. Ask for a fee waiver form

One of the best ways to avoid application fees is a technique that will also save you money on the standardized tests most colleges require as prerequisites for admission.

You can apply for college application fee waivers to avoid SAT testing fees, which cost as much as $68 to register for if you want to complete the essay portion as well as the reading and math sections. And if you qualify for an SAT fee waiver, you'll also receive application waivers that allow you to avoid charges when applying to up to four different schools.

You should be eligible for an SAT fee waiver if you participate in the National School Lunch Program, your family receives public assistance, you're homeless or in foster care, you live in federally subsidized public housing, you're an orphan or ward of the state or your family income falls within certain guidelines. If you qualify for a waiver, the College Board will also send your application fee waivers along with your SAT scores.

If you didn't get your SAT fees waived, you can still apply for a waiver of application fees by requesting one from the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Generally, you will need an educator to sign off and attest to your financial need in order to be approved for one, but this requirement is waived this year due to coronavirus.

To streamline the student loan application process, consider a tool like Credible, which lets you compare rates from several private lenders at once.

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2. Apply to a college with no application fee

Although most colleges charge a fee to apply, that doesn't mean that every school does. The College Board has a search tool that you can use to find colleges and universities that do not charge any money just to request admittance. These institutions include the Academy of the New Church, Agnes Scott College, Alabama State University and more.

Some schools that normally charge fees also chose to waive application fees for electronically submitted applications during 2020 in an effort to defray financial hardships caused by COVID-19. For example, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents waived electronic application fees for 10 universities including UW Oshkosh for the next two years.

You can also save cash by choosing the right private student loans — and the online marketplace Credible can help. With Credible's free tools, you can compare rates from eight different lenders within just minutes.

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3. Appeal to the college to waive the fees

If you want to apply to a college that does charge application fees and you don't receive an application fee waiver from the College Board, you can simply ask the school you're interested in to waive the fees.

This could involve calling the admission office yourself to explain that paying a fee while applying to colleges would cause your family financial hardship (just be ready to have proof of family income) or asking your college counselor or academic advisor to contact the school for you. Most schools want to be inclusive of students from all backgrounds, so it's very likely they would grant your request.

Of course, college application fees are just the start of the expenses that you'll incur to get an education. If you're worried about costs, look into options for free college or explore other alternatives to pay for school without going broke, such as applying for as many scholarships as possible.

You'll also want to research your student loan options carefully. Many people do end up borrowing to pay for school and federal student loans can be a low-cost way to do that.

You may also need some private student loans if federal aid isn't enough. You can visit Credible to learn more about private student loans and use their student loan calculator to get an idea of what costs you'd incur.

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By exploring your options for waiving application fees and for finding affordable solutions to cover tuition, you should hopefully be able to get a great education at a cost you can easily pay.