Of approximately 1.66 million SAT takers in the class of 2012, 371,259 participated in the College Board's SAT Fee-Waiver Service, the organization noted in "The SAT Report on College & Career Readiness: 2012." That's a 61 percent increase in program participation from 2008, according to the study, and saved each student the usual $50 fee charged.
"There are many students who simply lack the resources to be able to afford an SAT ... and we want to make certain that we do everything that we are able ... to level the playing field," says Jim Montoya, the College Board's vice president of relationship development. "It fits with our overall philosophy of trying to connect all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background, to college opportunities and college success."
[Find out why the fear of paying for college shouldn't keep you from applying.]
Students can get a fee waiver if they qualify for a free or reduced lunch at school; are enrolled in a low-income student program such as Upward Bound; are orphaned; or are in a family whose annual income is within the USDA Income Eligibility Guidelines, among other criteria. High school counselors grant the fee waivers, so the guidance office is a good first stop if you think you'll qualify, Montoya says.
But if you're not comfortable going directly to a counselor, any school official should be able to get the process in motion, notes Sara Walter, a transition coordinator who counsels students at New Hope Academy Charter School in Pennsylvania.
"It can be a very sensitive subject, because it does touch on a lot of things like, 'Are you homeless? Are you living in foster care? Is your family struggling financially?'" Walter says. "I really just encourage students, 'It's OK if you talk to somebody else and allow them to share that information with me.' If they can identify one person in school they're comfortable going to, that person could let the school counselor know that this is a concern."
[See other questions to ask your high school counselor.]
Through the College Board, students can also use fee waivers to take up to six SAT Subject tests and can send their SAT scores to four schools for free. Fee waivers are also offered for the ACT (though not through the College Board), and qualifying students can take both tests for free twice. Test takers who receive SAT fee waivers from the College Board will also be eligible to receive college application fee waivers, one of a variety of ways to apply to college for free.
"Once we do all the math," Walter says of walking her students through the various expenses, "they are really very grateful because they realize they wouldn't be able to apply if the fee waivers did not exist."
But while the free options may make college a possibility, they alone won't make success a reality, Montoya notes. It's up to students to challenge themselves with meaningful work in high school to get ready for the tests, as well as for college courses.
"We need to encourage more students across all socioeconomic and ethnic lines to take rigorous courses; the rigor of a student's academic course load in high school is reflected in his or her SAT test," he says. "Students, as they start high school, should already be thinking about the courses they will be taking, and making certain that those courses will well prepare them for college."
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