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5 Little-Known Ways to Apply to Colleges for Free

Happy high school student hugging excited friend with college acceptance letter
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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.

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 as much on college applications as we were on books during 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.

Early Action and Early Decision deadlines can sneak up on you. There’s no time like the present for parents to figure out how to save some dough when their children apply to college.

Apply online

Young man in glasses using a laptop
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It’s hard to believe that in this day and age of the Common Application, students still apply to college using a paper application and snail mail. With that option, there is nearly always an application fee. However, many colleges encourage their students to go paperless and may waive the fee if you apply using the online application.

Check out no-fee schools

University of Texas at Austin
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Nearly every state in the country has at least one college or university that doesn’t charge an admission fee at all. There might not be one that’s a perfect match for your student, but it doesn’t hurt to find out who offers what. You can find a list here.

Use alumni connections

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Some colleges waive the admission fee for students who have relatives who graduated from the school. 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 or other relatives could qualify for if they decide to apply to your alma mater.

Visit the campus

University of Illinois
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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.

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. (There are also virtual visits available!)

The waivers are usable at any of the participating schools, and the visitor’s name is entered in a drawing for five $100 Amazon gift cards. I wish we’d known this when we took our daughter to see the University of Richmond.

Demonstrate financial need

Woman working with a piggy bank on her desk
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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. Many schools waive the fees for students who qualified to have their SAT fee waived.

If you don’t get a fee waiver for the test, ask the college or university if there are other ways to get fees waived. It never hurts to ask. You can get more details about getting application fees waived here.

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