A lot of you know that college is expensive. That’s no secret. With tuitions approaching 70k for some private universities, we’re all struggling to find ways to make that cost a little cheaper - whether it be through loans or scholarships.
But a lot of people forget that the process of applying to college itself, the part where you write essays baring your souls and work on getting the best grades and standardized test scores, costs so much too. The average application fee cost is almost $38, and private and elite schools have even higher fees (Stanford’s is $90!). And the application fee is only the tip of the iceberg. Don’t forget about the amount of money it takes to send your test scores (which you can read more about here) or to send your CSS profile for financial aid eligibility (yeah, it costs money to ask for money).
Altogether, each college can cost around $100 to apply, and if you’re applying to 10 colleges, that’s already $1000. Yup, that’s expensive.
So, being the frugal student I am, I refused to accept the idea of paying more than a thousand dollars just to apply to college and found a way to pay for part of my college application fees.
But! Before I get into what I did, the first thing you should do to save money on application is look to see if you qualify for an application fee waiver, either through the Common App or through the individual college. Usually, students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will also qualify for automatic college fee application waivers. You can also qualify for CSS profile fee waivers and score sending fees if you qualify for the College Board testing waiver.
If you check your eligibility and talk with your guidance counselor, but find out you do not qualify, there are still ways to get fee waivers if you’re willing to write a couple essays and fill out a couple applications.
The big secret is:
Diversity Fly-in Programs.
Most students do not know that they exist, but they’re not only a source for fee waivers, but also a great way to show your interest to the university, assess your fit with the college, and get material for the “Why Us” essays.
Diversity fly-in programs are held by colleges who are trying to encourage those from minorities and underrepresented backgrounds to apply to their university and to give them an opportunity to experience the college firsthand as they make the decision to apply and possibly eventually to attend.
I had no idea these programs existed until fortunately I was invited to the one in Brandeis in August before my senior year. I saw on College Confidential (more on CC here) that they sometimes give application fee waivers to students that get accepted to the program. And so I was like, why not? I’m an Asian, so that’s not technically an underrepresented minority (URM) but it is certainly diverse, and I have the academic merits to warrant an acceptance.
So I applied, happened to get in, and got a fee waiver immediately, without having to actually attend the program. (Of course, I did want to attend, but my parents were iffy about the transportation and leaving me to go on my own - the overprotective Indian parents that they are - and so I didn’t end up going in the end, sadly.)
And then I found that a lot of the schools I was planning to apply to had these programs in place, many also offering a fee waiver for students who were accepted, and even to qualified students who applied.
Different schools have different names for these diversity programs, but the ones I applied to were those in University of Rochester, John Hopkins University, Amherst College, and University of Pennsylvania (and of course, Brandeis). I got a fee waiver from all except Penn, who I guess I wasn’t really expecting to hand out fee waivers anyway.
And I actually didn’t even get accepted to 3 of them (JHU, Penn, and Amherst), but still got fee waivers for those programs, because my application was strong enough for them to want to give me a waiver in order to ensure that I would apply to their university in the winter.
In total, after adding up the college application fees for all of them, I saved a total of $215. (I would’ve saved $265, but I had already submitted my University of Rochester application before I got accepted into their diversity program.)
Yeah, $215 is pretty significant.
But let’s get into applying for these diversity programs.
In general, they require an unofficial transcript, sometimes a counselor recommendation, a list of extracurricular activities, and one or more essays. The essays and transcript are definitely a very significant part of the application, but of course, the most significant part will be your ethnicity and sometimes income information if the college requests it.
The program itself will be a 2-3 day overnight stay at the university (they sometimes also give scholarships for travel expenses, depending on the college and your application). During this time you will be hosted by a current student with the same academic interests as you, eat in the university dining halls (all paid for, of course), sit in on several classes and lectures, and attend information sessions and campus tours. Depending on the university, you will also be given a chance to interview with an admissions officer.
The purpose of these programs is to increase the number of applicants to a certain college by encouraging those who wouldn’t normally apply, to apply. This is also why some of the colleges will also hand out fee waivers even to those who don’t get in - they believe you have a strong enough academic record to be somewhat competitive in the regular college admissions, and they want your application to be one of the several tens of thousands they will receive.
In all honesty, such a small number of students apply to these programs that it is not terribly hard to receive at least a fee waiver, even if you think you may not qualify in terms of diversity. In general, larger/higher ranked universities probably get more applicants to these type of programs, and more applicants that are actually URMs (African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics), and prefer those applicants over ORMs (overrepresented minorities - Asians) and majorities (Caucasians).
If you think you qualify, and even if you think you don’t, I encourage at least applying to these programs, even if just for the fee waivers. But! I cannot guarantee you will get a fee waiver even if you are not accepted - they hand those out based on a combination of diversity and academics as well.
Other colleges besides the ones I listed earlier have these programs, mostly other liberal arts colleges. Of course, I’m not planning on applying to the universities so I didn’t apply to their diversity programs.
Generally, applications open in the summer and are due fairly early in the year, around September or October, with a handful due as early as the summer.
So if you have the time to squeeze out a handful of essays during the summer while also writing your college admissions essays, give these types of programs a try, you just might end up saving hundreds of dollars.
Here’s a handy-dandy list of all the schools that offer these types of programs (not all come with fee waivers) so you don’t have to go scouring the internet for them: click here.
Even though it’s a little late for this application cycle, hope this helps for the future!
And as always, thanks for reading!