It is both a blessing and a curse that the Common App makes it easy to apply to many colleges. One of the curses is that applications cost money. Enough that you should budget for them. The good news is that having a money budget for applications will automatically create a “time budget” since it might reduce the number of applications you file.
Each application can cost $100 or more between application fees, sending test scores and submitting the CSS Profile if needed. That means that you can expect to spend $1,000 to apply to 10 colleges. It also means you should be a little choosy about where you apply because each $100 could be used so many other ways. If you can’t answer the question, “Why would I go here?” and can’t figure out how to cobble together enough financial aid and merit awards to afford the school, it’s not worth applying. To those points, “This is my safety school” is a perfectly good reason to apply but you might limit yourself to a single safety school rather than three. Likewise, “The net price calculator shows this school being out of my budget but there are two additional scholarships I’m eligible for that would make it work” is reasonable, whereas “I can probably get some outside scholarships” is not.
Students and families who do their homework can save some additional money on applications. Many colleges, especially public ones, waive application fees for applications received by a certain date. Some schools grant fee waivers to students who have visited, including those who have taken virtual tours. Others grant fee waivers to all students who apply for financial aid by submitting the FAFSA. And all colleges have a fee waiver process available through the Common App. You can also reach out to colleges directly and ask for a fee waiver. Most colleges want more applications, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Students submitting test scores should also consider whether to send them to every college they’re applying to or to be more selective. A general rule is, if your scores put you in the top quartile, definitely send them. (Find top quartile cutoffs at College Navigator under the Admissions tab.) If you’re at the lower end of the score range, you probably should not. Students in the middle should review the overall strength of the rest of their application and decide on that basis.
Even if you can get all of your application fees waived, that still doesn’t mean you should apply to every school out there. Many require additional essays or application materials, which of course require additional time. Not only that, but they limit the focus the student can put into applications for the schools they care about.
And to answer your other question: No, you can’t use your 529 to pay application fees.
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