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How to Get SAT, ACT Fee Waivers

College can feel costly before students even get there, given the various fees associated with the application process. For students from low-income backgrounds, these expenses can be even more challenging.

One cost is the registration fee for college entrance exams such as the SAT or ACT. A score from one of these tests is required to apply to many, though not all, colleges and universities.

Test-takers must pay $49.50 to register for the SAT or $52 for the ACT, according to the College Board and ACT websites. For test versions that include writing portions, the SAT costs $64.50 and the ACT runs $68. Other fees may apply to both exams for late registration or other changes in test administration.

SAT, ACT Fee Waiver Eligibility Requirements

Some states and public school systems cover the cost of the SAT or ACT, but if students don't attend a high school where the exams are offered for free, they can avoid paying out of pocket by obtaining a fee waiver. These documents come with a code that students can use in lieu of payment information when they register for the test.

To qualify for a fee waiver, students must meet eligibility requirements, which are largely the same for both entrance exams.

[Read: ACT vs. SAT: How to Decide Which Test to Take.]

According to the testing companies' websites, high schoolers must be in their junior or senior year; a U.S. citizen or taking the test within the U.S. or a U.S. territory; and have financial need, which they can demonstrate in several different ways. For example, students whose family income qualifies them for free or reduced-price lunch at school are eligible for test fee waivers. Students who are home-schooled, homeless, in foster care or whose families receive public assistance also qualify.

Students can find the full lists of financial need criteria online for the SAT and ACT.

School counselors are the primary distributors of test fee waivers, says Jane Dapkus, vice president of College Readiness Assessments at the College Board. However, some college access organizations give them out, too, she says.

For example, counselors for the University of Maryland--College Park's Upward Bound Program, a federally funded college readiness program for low-income students, distribute fee waivers to their students, says Georgette Hardy DeJesus, executive director of Pre-College Programs in Undergraduate Studies at UMD.

[Read: How High School Juniors Can Set ACT, SAT Goals.]

If students aren't sure whether they qualify for a waiver, they can speak with their school counselor, says Geoff Heckman, school counselor and department chair at Platte County High School in Missouri. For those with limited or no access to a counselor, a teacher or administrator may act in that role and be able to help.

But if students can't find anyone to assist them, Heckman says, "then they can reach out directly to the testing companies and say, 'This is the school I'm at. We don't have access to this information. How can I still get a fee waiver?'"

What Fee Waivers Mean for College Admissions

The SAT and ACT fee waivers come with additional benefits. For instance, the two testing companies provide a number of college application fee waivers to students who have their test fee waived. Not paying college application fees can mean savings for families, as costs can near $100 at schools charging the highest rates.

And students who want to take the SAT or ACT again to try to boost their score can receive a second fee waiver, though two is the maximum for each test, according to the College Board and ACT websites.

Being able to take the SAT or ACT twice for free is especially beneficial to low-income families who struggle to pay for the test, Hardy DeJesus says. "Many would only take the test once and we know from research that a student should take these tests at least twice to have the best opportunity to increase their scores and access to post-secondary education," she wrote in an email.

[See: 10 Colleges With the Highest SAT Scores.]

Dapkus recommends that students take the SAT as soon as they can in their junior year. She says low-income students, in particular, often don't take the test until fall or winter of their senior year, which can create challenges with retesting.

"At that point, you're heading into college application season," she says. "If you didn't do all that well, your ability to take a repeat test and practice in between just starts shrinking."

States That Pay for SAT and ACT Fee Waivers

A number of states will foot the bill for the SAT and ACT for public school students.

For the 2018-19 school year, these 10 states and the District of Columbia covered the cost of an SAT test for students, according to information provided by the College Board:

-- Colorado

-- Connecticut

-- Delaware

-- District of Columbia

-- Idaho

-- Illinois

-- Maine

-- Michigan

-- New Hampshire

-- Rhode Island

-- West Virginia

For the ACT, that number was even larger. Last school year, 20 states funded ACT testing, according to Ed Colby, senior director of media and public relations for ACT. Of those 20 states, 14 required students to take the ACT, while it was optional in the other six.

The ACT was available for free to public school students in the following states:

-- Alabama

-- Arkansas

-- Hawaii

-- Kansas

-- Kentucky

-- Louisiana

-- Minnesota

-- Mississippi

-- Montana

-- Nebraska

-- Nevada

-- North Carolina

-- North Dakota

-- Ohio

-- Oklahoma

-- South Carolina

-- Tennessee

-- Utah

-- Wisconsin

-- Wyoming

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