What if you can’t afford to even *apply* for college? You’ve got options.

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Programs run by the Federal Student Aid office are imperfect solutions to an impossible problem.

Rising tuition costs have made “affordable education” something of a contradiction, but the FSA at least gives students the option of coping with the enormous financial burden. If you want to go to college, there is money out there.

But what happens when you can’t afford to even apply for college?

Most college application fees are roughly $50. Experts recommend that high school seniors apply to at least eight schools, so we’re up to $400. And you can’t apply for college without college entrance exams, so let’s tack on another $60 for the SAT exam with essay, and another $68 for a couple SAT individual subject tests.

We’ve rung up a $528 bill like we’ve just discovered Amazon Prime.

That total doesn’t even factor in “luxuries,” such as an SAT prep course or a college visit.

What are you supposed to do if you’re the youngest of four siblings in a single-parent home and you don’t have half a grand lying around to apply for the opportunity to attend college?

Thankfully, there are some programs providing assistance.

SAT and ACT Waivers

The most common application fee waivers come through the two college entrance exams. Both College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, and American College Testing, the org that administers (you guessed it!) the ACT, offer similar comprehensive waiver packages.

The waiver provides:

  • Two free exams (and six SAT II subject exams)
  • Free score reporting
  • Application fee waivers for participating colleges (More on this in a minute.)

Eligible students can contact their high school counselors to apply for a waiver on their behalf. To be eligible, students must already receive some form of government assistance, such as the NSLP or live in public housing, or be an orphan or ward of the court. The Common Application contributes by using an SAT or ACT waiver as a qualifier for their own fee waivers.

These are amazing programs that are providing critical support to a huge chunk of students in need. But is it enough?

Not quite.

College Board says that 2,000 schools participate in their fee waiver program. That may sound like a lot, but that means more than 60% of schools in the country are not participating.

What’s shocking is that schools intended to be accessible aren’t participating. A private school like Columbia University can afford to grant a tuition waiver, but SUNY New Paltz can’t.

National Association College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Fee Waiver

Another option for students applying to schools that don’t participate in the above programs is a fee waiver offered by The National Association for College Admission Counseling.

While the NACAC uses many of the same eligibility criteria as the SAT and ACT, they allow for school counselors to argue on behalf of students who may not otherwise qualify.

Beyond these application fee waivers, this specific issue doesn’t get a lot of play.

There’s not much offered to students who are struggling to pay for the miscellaneous costs associated with applying for college. Sure, some schools have dropped application fees altogether, and others will waive the fee upon request.

But should the options of disadvantaged students be limited to those schools?

Imagine picking one life-changing decision over another because it didn’t have a $50 application fee.

Higher education can forever alter a student’s direction in life.

The FSA keeps a door open for students to pay for college once they’ve been admitted. Now we just need to clear a path for students to actually apply.