How to Apply to Lots of Colleges Without Going Broke

The cost of college is a major expense for any family pursuing higher education, but it's important to note that the money suck begins way before the first tuition bill. It starts with the college-bound teenager's application process, and it can put a sizable dent in your overall budget if the student is casting a wide net. You can defray this expense, however, with these money-saving tips that make the college-application process more affordable. (See also: The Encouraging Truth About How Americans Are Covering the Cost of College)

Consult a guidance counselor for advice before beginning the process

Your best resource for navigating the college-selection and application process is your student's guidance counselor. College admissions is a huge part of their job, and they have plenty of tips and tricks on how to get through it in a cost-efficient manner.

Narrow down your choices

Apply to fewer schools to save more money. Jason Patel, founder of college-prep company Transizion suggests applying to two reach schools, at least three target schools, and three safety schools to keep the total application fees low. If you've researched these choices well enough to determine that your student is a good fit, you shouldn't have to apply to any more than that. (See also: How College Applicants Can Tour Scores of Campuses for $15 or Less)

Plan ahead to avoid errors and last-minute panic

College applications are more affordable when you plan early.

"Good planning leads to good decisions, says Patel. "Most counselors and professionals recommend that students apply to five to eight colleges, so this means these five to eight colleges should be chosen early. Late discoveries lead to errors in the application and an eventual spreadsheet approach that forces students to apply to 15 colleges they're not sure of."

Search for no-fee colleges and universities

This'll make your wallet happy: There are no-fee colleges and universities out there (good ones, too), and you can find the best of the best on this ranking of the 2018 Best Colleges with No Application Fee in America. That doesn't mean you should whittle down your choices to only these schools, however. Talk with your student about his or her goals and what they want from the college experience, and also be realistic about the schools by which your child has a chance of being accepted. If some of the no-fee colleges fit onto that list, great. If not, put them out of your mind and move on. Having your child choose a college they don't necessarily want to go to will cost you much more than that waived application fee if they want to transfer a year later.

Apply for fee waivers

Fee waivers are available for low-income families. For instance, students who qualify for free or reduced lunch can have their application fees waived at most colleges. Some students also can take the SAT or SAT Subject Tests using a test-fee waiver that will let them apply to more than 2,000 colleges for free.

Apply during fee-free weeks

Some schools offer fee-free application weeks, which is generally available statewide in participating states. Some North Carolina colleges and universities waive their application fees during the second week of November, while their Minnesota counterparts waive for one week in late October. If you know in which state you're student is applying, search online to see if it has a no-fee week to offer before submitting. (See also: 12 Surprising Ways to Get More College Financial Aid)

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