Reducing the Expenses of College Applications (or How to Apply to College for Free)


Going to college, or sending your children to college, can seem prohibitive because of the tuition fees involved. But much before that, even applying for college can seem like an unaffordable process. For instance, application fees for 2013 were $75 at Harvard, MIT and UT Austin, while it was $35 at Hope College. Applying to 10 colleges can easily cost $700 in application fees alone. Add to that the SAT and SAT subject tests costs, score reports, mailing costs, etc. and you could easily be looking at $1000 in costs for US students, and much more for international students. But don’t panic, there are many ways you can save money during the college admissions process. Some have been expressly designed by the colleges to encourage qualified, but poor students, to apply for admission. In fact, some of you will be able to apply to college without spending a cent. Here’s how:

  1. Many colleges offer admission fee waivers to those students in need. Talk to your high school counselor for applying for this waiver. This fee waiver is also valid for international students. If you do not have a high school counselor, talk to your school’s principal. Also look it up on the college admission website to learn the process.
  2. Before you give your SATs, shortlist the 4 colleges that you really would like to get into. The SAT registration fees include sending your score report to 4 colleges for free, as long as you include their information during the registration process. Any score report outside the registration period would be charged the normal fee, which is $11 per score report.
  3. The SAT also provides fee waivers for the registration fee for needy students. Up to four waivers are allowed per student.  Each waiver covers an entire registration day, which means the SAT or up to 3 SAT subject tests in that day, saving about $50 per waiver in both cases. However, late registration is not covered except in October, so make your preparations in advance. This waiver is available to all students in the USA, if financially eligible, but only to US citizens in test centers outside the USA. So, international students are not eligible, which is unfortunate since they also pay an additional $31 processing fee with every registration.
  4. The SAT waiver fee also includes 4 additional score reports (i.e. 8 free score reports in total). In this case the 4 additional reports are flexible and not restricted to the registration period, and you can send them even after you see your score.
  5. For international students studying in US high schools, you may also be eligible for a fee waiver on TOEFL tests, if deemed needy. Otherwise the fees can be as high as $250 depending on the test.
  6. Most colleges offer the option to submit applications online now, through their electronic admissions system. For all colleges that have this option, do your application online, instead of printing out a hard copy of the application and then sending it by post. The online application also allows your teachers to submit their recommendations online, and the high schools officials to submit your transcripts and other reports. This way you can save on mailing costs, which can be approximately $5/application for priority mail to $18/application for express mail in the US. For international students, sending by registered mail or through a courier service could be as much as $40/application.
  7. For colleges that give no other option except a traditionally mailed hard-copy application, gather all the material together into one package and mail it, to avoid repeat posting costs for the same college. I would not suggest sending the application by anything lower than registered mail, since these are important documents, which will decide the rest of your life. You do not want them to be lost in the mail.

As you can see, the college application process will require a large portion of your time, but, at least for poor and needy US high school students and US citizens, it will not require even a penny of your hard-earned money. Even needy international students can cut over 70% of their admissions costs by following the above tips.

So do not let the cost of college admissions deter you. Keep faith, work hard and give it your best shot. When you get into a great college, and are offered a fantastic financial aid package (which is not as hard as it seems), you will wonder why you ever thought college was unaffordable. For more college admissions tips, check out my other posts on the subject. Keep tuned as I show you how to choose the right college for you, and how to apply for financial aid.


This entry was published on August 27, 2012 at 7:12 am. It’s filed under College, Education, finance, High School, Life, Personal Finance, Savings and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “Reducing the Expenses of College Applications (or How to Apply to College for Free)

  1. This is a very resourceful post. I wish I had done a lot more home-work before I came to this country—I could’ve saved my parents a lot of the application money!

  2. Interestingly, graduate schools are harder to get a fee waiver from. If I remember correctly, I ended up paying most of my application fees there.

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