How to Cut College Admissions Application Fees

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Brian O'Connell

By Brian O'Connell

July 10, 2019

College application fees are on the rise, and that’s not good news to students and families who may be applying to multiple colleges.

According to The American Freshman survey conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), half of American freshmen applied for admission to five or fewer colleges in 2017 (54%), a third to 6-9 colleges (31%) and 15% applied to 10 or more colleges.

While it’s understandable that families want to cover their tracks and apply to enough colleges to ensure that the student is admitted to at least one affordable college, that means parents are paying higher and higher college application fees in the process.

The data backs that sentiment up.

College Application Fee Statistics

Based on data from the 2017 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), college-bound students spent more than $504 million on application fees to 4-year colleges in the 2017 school year. That’s more than half a billion dollars in college application fees.

Additionally, IPEDS data recorded 10,621,392 applications for admission to 4-year colleges and a weighted average application fee of $47.50 in 2017.

Colleges that charge over $50 per application are more common than one might think.

A total of 604 U.S. colleges and universities charge $50 or more to apply for college admission. Of these 4-year colleges, 51% are private non-profit colleges, 43% are public colleges and 7% are private for-profit colleges.

New York (91), California (84),  Massachusetts (48), Pennsylvania (47), North Carolina (24) and Texas (22) were the states that have the most colleges charging at least $50 per application

Add up application fees to six, seven or even 10-to-30 colleges, and mom and dad are in the hole financially, even before they get their first college tuition bill.

And that’s before admissions test fees and the CSS Profile fees, which can add hundreds of dollars to the cost.

Tips on Cutting the Cost of College Applications

Fortunately, there are still some solid and savvy ways to curb your student’s college application costs, and still apply to the colleges you’ve listed as a top priority.

These tips should provide the best results.

Establish an Application Fee Ceiling

Building a college application/admissions budget is the most straightforward way to control application costs.

The goal is to set a budget for college applications – let’s say $250. Having a firm figure in place will (or should) lead you to wiser college admission application choices.

After all, you can apply everywhere, so if you really break it all down to four or five colleges you really love, and they all fall within your $250 limit, then you’re on the right track financially.

Consider Colleges that Don’t Charge Application Fees

This tactic may not lead to the college of your dreams, but if you can find more colleges or universities that are on your wish list, and don’t charge application fees, that’s a big feather in your college cost cap.

Most selective colleges charge higher application fees. But, there are 30 colleges that do not charge application fees and that accept 40% or less of applicants for admission. These colleges admit at least 100 students a year. In addition, most community colleges do not charge application fees.

Colleges with No Application Fees

Acceptance Rate

United States Naval Academy (MD)


United States Military Academy (NY)


United States Air Force Academy (CO)


College of the Ozarks (MO)


United States Coast Guard Academy (CT)


Colby College (ME)


Carleton College (MN)


Tulane University of Louisiana (LA)


Wellesley College (MA)


United States Merchant Marine Academy (NY)


Alice Lloyd College (KY)


Ohio Valley University (WV)


Grinnell College (IA)


Smith College (MA)


Oberlin College (OH)


Kenyon College (OH)


Texas Wesleyan University (TX)


Texas A & M University-Commerce (TX)


Point University (GA)


Berea College (KY)


University of the Southwest (NM)


Reed College (OR)


Finlandia University (MI)


Union College (NY)


Connecticut College (CT)


Trinity University (TX)


Avila University (MO)


Barton College (NC)


Central Christian College of Kansas (KS)


Kentucky Christian University (KY)



Don’t Apply to Colleges that Charge High Application Fees

Let’s face it, your child probably isn’t going to get into a college that accepts less than 10% of its applicants, so you might as well save the money. If you want to play the college admissions lottery, limit applications to just one high-fee college.

The colleges that charge the highest application fees include music schools, such as Berklee College of Music ($150), Curtis Institute of Music ($150), The Juilliard School ($110) and the Cleveland Institute of Music ($110).

Among the most selective colleges, Stanford University leads the pack with an application fee of $90, followed by Columbia and Duke at $85, Yale, Dartmouth and Cornell at $80, and Harvard, MIT, Caltech, Brown, Penn, Northwestern and University of Chicago at $75. Princeton University is a real bargain at $65.

Ask for an Application Fee Waiver

That’s right, simply ask the college admissions office for an application fee waiver – it might be easier to obtain than you think.

Colleges have various reasons to grant application fee waivers. A college might really love your child’s academic prowess or would love to get him or her on campus on an athletic or musical scholarship, for example.

Admissions offices will also waive application fees if a family demonstrates financial need, and will possibly grant you an application fee waiver if your son or daughter is a legacy, with another family member preceding them at the college or university to which you’re applying.

The College Board provides a database of colleges that accept application fee waivers. The National College Fair offers a handy college application fee waiver as well waivers for fees for SAT tests, ACT tests and transfers. In some cases, you may have to ask for the fee waiver through your high school guidance counselor.

Apply Online

In this day and age, many colleges will waive the application fee if you simply opt to complete the admissions application online.

Colleges love applicants who take the online route. Going digital with a college application means less paperwork and less staffing hours pouring over paper-based applications. Generally, reviewing online college applications is quicker and more efficient.

Elite colleges like Bryn Mawr College and DePaul University, among many others, will waive their application fees if you apply online.

Curb the Number of College Admissions Applications

This move will help with your college application fee budget ceiling. Gather all the colleges and universities your high schooler wants to apply to, and start winnowing them down (say, from 15 to 7) by measuring the pros and cons of each college.

Eliminate any colleges you’re not sure about, or at least aren’t sold on, leaving just the colleges that are a good match and offer your son or daughter a great collegiate experience.

Consider Other Ways to Cut College Application Costs

Families should also explore additional ways to curb college application fees.

For example, high school students who earned SAT or ACT test fee waivers can automatically qualify for application fee waivers, straight from the collegiate testing companies. The College Board, for example, grants two free SATs, six free SAT Subject Tests and an unlimited number of score reports for low-income students.

The widely-used Common App also includes an application fee request option in its college applications form, which is accepted by hundreds of U.S. colleges.

Don’t Pay College Application Fees If You Don’t Have To

Whether it’s for great academic work, applying online or working with a college testing organization, there are many ways to stop college application fees in their tracks.

That leaves more cash in your pocket, while still getting your son or daughter into a great college.

A good place to start:

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