Paying for College

College Application Fee Waiver for Home-Schooled Student?

Question: I'd like to apply for a college application fee waiver but my situation is unusual so I'm not sure how to proceed. I'm a US citizen, born and raised, but since 2005 I've lived in China with my dad, a retiree, and my mother, who is a housewife. I'm also home-schooled. I'm taking the SAT in December but I used money from my part time job to pay for it instead of applying for a fee waiver.

I know my family's annual income qualifies for the waiver, but how do I, a home-schooled student living in China, apply? Thanks for your time.

Many colleges are pretty flexible when it comes to granting fee waivers, at least when it comes to proof of student need. Some go strictly by standardized test waivers and thus give application waivers only to those who have also qualified for waivers for admission testing, too. Most colleges, however--especially the more selective ones--grant a lot more wiggle room when it comes to determining which candidates need not pay their fees.

Below are the fee-waiver eligibility guidelines from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). However, these figures are not set in stone and may vary depending on many factors including cost-of-living in the applicant's home city or country. Also, since your family's income sounds low, you need to also verify to colleges that your parents don't have assets that might make you ineligible for a waiver. Certainly it's hard to offer proof of what you don't have, but do be aware that colleges will want to know about family resources beyond the household income.

Number in Family ----Family Income

1 ------------------------------------ $30,800

2 ------------------------------------ $36,160

3 ------------------------------------ $40,800

4 ------------------------------------ $43,950

5 ------------------------------------ $47,400

If it sounds as if your family should qualify for a waiver, and since you are a home-schooled candidate and have no guidance counselor to vouch for your financial situation, here's what you should do:

1) Write colleges a brief letter (e-mail is fine, too) explaining your situation (as you have done here ---including the fact that you worked to cover your testing costs) and also providing a specific annual income and an explanation of other assets. If there is some other "authority figure" (e.g., a minister or social worker) who is involved with your family and can write to corroborate your letter, so much the better, although it is not mandatory.

2) If your family pays US taxes, include a copy of your parents' most recent tax return. (If you are applying for financial aid--and it sounds as if you must be--you will need this anyway. If you are NOT applying for financial aid, you will not receive a fee waiver.)

In some cases, you'll find a fee-waiver application form on college Web sites, but it's not common. So, typically, it's up to you to present your situation to colleges and hope that they'll let you off the hook.