David Cruz began the college application process knowing that he would be using funds from his father’s GI Bill to pay part of his college expenses. What he didn’t expect, however, was that the cost of taking the college entrance exams could be out of reach for him. Fortunately, his counselor shared with him that the College Board and ACT both offer test registration fee waivers for those who meet certain criteria. Understanding the fee waiver application process is essential if you or a student you know may find the costs out of reach.
Get the Lowdown
The first thing potential applicants should know is that only eleventh and twelfth graders may apply for the SAT, ACT or PSAT fee waiver. This means that you cannot apply for a fee waiver for the PSAT if you are a ninth or tenth grader. However, students in any year of high school may apply for a SAT Subject Test fee waiver.
Whether or not you are a US citizen or an international student, you will need to take the test within the US, Puerto Rico or the US Territories. There might be a possibility to apply for a fee waiver if you are a US citizen taking the test abroad, but you'll need to speak to your current school counselor to get more information.
No matter what your situation, you will have to meet with your school counselor if you are seeking a fee waiver, since students cannot sign up for the waiver directly. Discuss your eligibility with the counselor as soon as possible to make sure you receive your fee waiver on time for your next planned SAT or ACT date.
Know These SAT Waiver Rules
The College Board lists the following as acceptable eligibility requirements for a fee waiver. You only need to qualify for one of these to get the waiver:
- Enrolled in or eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP);
- Student's annual family income falls within the Income Eligibility Guidelines set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service;
- Enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that aids students from low-income families (for example, TRIO programs like Upward Bound);
- The student’s family receives public assistance;
- The student lives in federally subsidized public housing or a foster home or is homeless;
- The student is a ward of the state or an orphan.
When you meet the eligibility for the SAT fee waiver, you will receive a total of four fee waiver cards. You can use the fee waiver for up to two SATs and up to six SAT Subject Tests. You cannot use the fee waiver more than twice for the SAT. But you also are not obliged to use all of the fee waivers — you can just take the SAT once or twice if that is all you need for your college application process. Once you get the fee waiver card, you will use the information printed on the card when you register for the test.
Understand the ACT Waiver Regulations
To be eligible for the ACT fee waiver, you must meet one or more of the following criteria:
- Enrolled in a federal free or reduced-price lunch program at school, based on USDA income levels;
- Enrolled in a program for the economically disadvantaged, like a federally funded program such as GEAR UP or Upward Bound;
- Reside in a foster home, are a ward of the state, or are homeless;
- Family receives low-income public assistance or lives in federally subsidized public housing;
- Family’s total annual income is at or below the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) levels for free or reduced-price lunches.
Once your counselor determines you are eligible, he or she will apply for it, and you will get the fee waiver card before your planned test date. You can use the fee waiver to register for a total of two tests, and it's up to you if you register for the ACT with or without the Writing section.
However, take into consideration that the ACT does send a limited number of fee waivers to each high school, so try to contact your counselor to apply for a fee waiver as soon as possible in the beginning of your junior year. Also remember that each fee waiver is only valid through August 31, so if you want to take the ACT again in your senior year, you will have to apply for the waiver again.
“In my case, I applied for an SAT waiver junior year and an ACT waiver senior year,” Cruz says. “I ended up taking the SAT twice and the ACT once, which worked out well. My advice for students preparing to do this is to talk to the counselor as early as possible. When people found out I got the waiver, they were interested in applying too, but for some of them, it was too late by then.”
Don't Forget Your Bonuses!
If you receive a fee waiver for the ACT, remember that this also means you are also eligible to send out one free official score report to your high school and four free official score reports (which are usually $12) to four different colleges of your choice.
Once you've qualified to get a fee waiver for the SAT, you can send out an unlimited number of official score reports to any colleges on your list.
But that's not all. The College Board has also included the following services free of cost:
- Two free Question and Answer Service OR Student Answer Service Reports
- Fee reductions for score verification reports
- No late registration fees
And by all means, if you receive a fee waiver and register for the test using your fee waiver code, please do take the test! The ACT reports that a “higher-than-expected number” of students do not ending up taking the test once they receive the fee waiver. When you register and don't show up at the test center, you're taking the spot of another student who could have taken the test. Beyond that, taking the ACT and SAT really are important parts of your college application.
If you are wondering how to prepare for either test, talk to your counselor and check out some of our test prep advice articles that are designed to help you make this process as smooth and stress-free as possible.