Cutting Costs in the College Search and Application Processes

The myOptions Team

Do you worry that the costs associated with the college search and application processes don’t fit into your budget?

You and pretty much every other college hopeful share that exact sentiment. Resourcefulness is key, so we have compiled a list of resources to help offset those costs. Some of the opportunities mentioned can be utilized by all students regardless of family income level, whereas others may have specific criteria you must meet and are reserved for families who demonstrate a certain level of financial need.

Pre-College Summer Programs

Do you want to get a taste of what college is like while you are in still in high school and have an awesome experience to put on your resume? A pre-college summer program may be a good option for you! They can come at a cost, but we have identified some opportunities that are free for those who qualify (this is by no means a comprehensive list, just a few we found). Even if a program has a fee, it’s definitely worth asking if there are scholarships available. Some even allow you to earn college credits.

Camp College Illinois

Carnegie Mellon Summer Academy for Math and Science

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Minority Intro to Engineering and Science

Northwestern University Summer Bridge Program

Test Prep

Earning a high score on the SAT and/or ACT is a huge component of your college application, and prepping for these tests is probably at the top of your college to-do list. I mean, it is pretty simple, the better prepared you are, the better you will perform on these tests. Unfortunately, test prep programs can often come with a hefty price tag.

If you plan to take the SAT, a great FREE resource for all students is Khan Academy.

For the ACT, if you qualify for an ACT fee waiver, you will receive access to ACT online prep.


Another huge component of your college application is crafting the perfect essay. For many students, this is a daunting task. There are obviously services you can pay for to help with this, but chances are you already have the resources you need to conquer this without opening your wallet. First, I’d recommend enlisting the feedback of a trusted adult; your English teacher is typically a good go-to. If you have an older friend who was admitted to her dream school, she might be a good resource as well. When utilizing the help of others, be respectful of their time by providing them your essay well in advance of the due date so they are not scrambling last-minute to complete their suggestions. Keep in mind the old adage, “your failure to plan does not constitute an emergency on my behalf.”

I absolutely love this tip a myOptions user provided. He created a Facebook group with classmates who were all applying to colleges to review each other’s essays and provide feedback. This is an awesome way to get lots of feedback and inspiration. Obviously, guidelines need to be set, like feedback can only be constructive in nature, no stealing of essays etc., but if done right, this is an awesome idea.

Test Fee Waivers

You’ve prepped for the SAT and/or ACT, and you are ready to rock it. You’re probably very aware that taking the SAT and ACT comes with a cost, but based on your family’s income you could qualify for fee waivers to waive the cost of two attempts at both the SAT and ACT test.

For the SAT, here is more information on qualifications, the application, and details on what is covered.

For the ACT, here is more information on the qualifications, the application, and details on what is covered.

Application Fees

Application fees can get really expensive, really fast, especially if you have an extensive list of schools you are applying to. These fees typically range anywhere from $25-$90 per application. Colleges want to ensure the application fee doesn’t pose a barrier for you to submit your application, so there are several ways to have your application fee potentially waived:

-If you qualify for the SAT fee waiver, you qualify for 4 application fee waivers (at participating colleges).

-If you qualify for the ACT fee waiver, your counselor can fill out the application fee waiver request form on your behalf, and submit this to colleges you are applying to. It is at the discretion of each college to approve this, so just keep that in mind.

-If you are applying using the Common App, here is more information on waiving application fees.

-Some college admissions counselors have a limited amount of fee waivers they can give out at their discretion for special circumstances. There is no harm in POLITELY asking if this is a possibility for you. Be prepared with a valid explanation as to why you need it waived. Don’t expect that your wish can always be granted, but the answer is always no if you don’t ask.

Campus Visit Vouchers/Fly-In Programs

Visiting a college campus in-person is an important step in determining your best fit which can get pretty pricey. Luckily some schools are able to offer campus visit vouchers and fly-in programs to help reduce these costs. These programs are typically reserved for admitted students and will usually only cover a portion of the costs associated with your campus visit, but can definitely be a big help! If you are very interested in a college, but visiting campus isn’t financially feasible, ask the admissions officer if the school offers any programs like this.

Even if a college doesn’t offer a campus visit voucher/fly-in program, there are ways to visit at a low-cost. Check to see if there is an admitted student event that offers free lodging on-campus for students during the visit, this is a win-win because you don’t have to pay for a place to stay AND you get to experience dorm living. Also, coordinate with your friends to see if they want to visit any of the same campuses so you can split costs and have a road trip buddy.

Unfortunately, the costs associated with the college search and application processes are just the beginning. Be sure to fill out the FAFSA (each year you are in college) and apply for scholarships to be as financially savvy as possible. Don’t let all of the costs associated with college be a deterrent for pursuing your college dreams. I assure you where there’s a will or resourcefulness, in this case, there is ALWAYS a way.

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