The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Can I Even Afford To Apply?
Stephanie Perez

I first learned about the costs of applying to college last year, my junior year, when my friend Jodie, a senior, started applying to colleges. One day she mentioned that she needed to get a money order for a college application. I asked her, “You need to pay to apply to college?”

She said, “Yes, every school has a different price for applying.” I thought that was stupid (I still do). Why do we need to pay just for applying? You don’t have to pay to apply for a job.

It’s not like the application fees are small. Some are $25, $40, $50, $65. I was told to apply to at least six colleges so if some schools turn me down, I still have options. So this fall, I applied to 12 schools: four CUNY (City University of New York), four SUNY (State University of New York) and four private.

You Have to Pay for Tests, Too

For SUNY, it costs $40 for each school you apply to. I guess that’s not bad if you’re only going to apply to one school. But if you decide to apply to four schools, like I did, you have to pay $160—that’s a lot of money!

For CUNY, it costs $65, but it’s not per school. You can choose up to six schools to apply to, and the $65 covers all of them together. Private colleges are even more expensive. For example, it’s $45 to apply to Pace University and $55 for Ithaca College.
Plus, there are the tests you have to take for college. The SAT fee was $29.50—and beginning with the new SAT in March, it goes up to $41.50. And many people take the SAT more than once.

Mom Makes ‘Too Much’

There is a way to get around paying the expensive test and application fees. You can get a fee waiver, which frees you from having to pay the application fee. Not everyone who qualifies for a fee waiver will get one, though. There are a limited number of fee waivers, and they’re given out on a first come, first served basis.

It’s not easy to get your test and application fees waived, either. In order to receive a fee waiver, you must show proof of income. The college advisor or guidance counselor reviewing the income papers follows a guideline which states how much money your family should make in order to qualify for a fee waiver.

image by Leo Maisouradze

I tried to get SAT and college application fee waivers and I couldn’t. According to the College Board, which runs the SAT, my mom makes too much money for a two-person family for me to get a fee waiver. For an SAT fee waiver, my mom would have to make less than $22,422 a year.

Most of the time, if a person is eligible to get an SAT fee waiver, they can get a college application fee waiver, but for a CUNY or SUNY fee waiver, my mom would have to make even less; under $19,600 a year. That’s the cut-off for a two-person family.

No School Trip for Me

We’re not poor enough to get fee waivers, but money is still tight. My mom is a single parent paying for everything on her own. She pays for rent, phone bills, cable, Internet, food for us and our two dogs, plus personal expenses like clothes and transportation. This year she’s also paying for my senior dues, SAT and college application fees and a trip to Puerto Rico for Christmas.

Because of all of the expenses falling upon my mother, I decided not to go on a school trip that cost $200. I’m looking for a job so that I can help out but until I get one, she has to pay for everything on her own.

I’m worried that I’m going to have difficulty paying for college. When I was filling out my SUNY and CUNY applications, there was a section where you could apply for financial aid programs like the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) for SUNY and SEEK or College Discovery for CUNY.

But once again, I wouldn’t be eligible because my mom makes too much money for a two-person family. If I go a four-year CUNY college, it will cost about $4,000 a year. If I go to a SUNY school, it will cost about $15,000 a year.

Hard to Shell Out Hundreds

I know I have the advantage of a parent with a steady income, and I’m glad I don’t have to worry about whether or not I can eat. But we’re still not in an economic position where we can shell out a couple hundred dollars for application fees. Although we’re going to Puerto Rico, the money isn’t just falling from the sky. My mom is paying for it little by little.

I think that the cut-off for eligibility of fee waivers should be raised, especially for single parents who are taking care of all the expenses in a household. They should realize that just because you’re not poor doesn’t mean that it’s easy to pay for every expense that comes your family’s way.

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