Cost of Applying to College – A Resource Guide

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College-bound students and their families are often very aware of the potential price-tag associated with earning a higher education degree. Many do not, however, realize that they will be responsible for several expenses before ever stepping foot on a university campus. Chief among these charges are college application fees, which can be as high as $90 each. While there are institutions that do not charge an application fee, the most popular national universities do. National universities are typically highly ranked and offer a wide variety of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degree options, making them appealing to many incoming students. According to U.S. News, 979 ranked colleges reported charging application fees in 2018, with the national average fee being $43.

It is considered standard for students to apply to multiple colleges and universities during their senior year of high school. There is no set minimum or maximum, but the College Board recommends submitting roughly five to eight applications. The final bill will depend on the number of applications submitted, but families can spend hundreds of dollars during the process. Add to this the cost of taking entrance exams and traveling to visit campuses, and preparing for college can become a potentially daunting financial burden.

Resources for Before and After College


Why Do I Have to Pay Application Fees?


There are several reasons a college or university may charge application fees. The primary motivation generally has to do with ensuring that applicants are serious about enrolling in a particular program. Without this requirement, there would likely be a huge influx of applicants who merely applied because they could. Arguably, these fees encourage students to be more selective and limit the number of frivolous applications.

Additionally, processing through applications requires significant time and resources. While technology advancements allow institutions to accept submission materials electronically, reviewing applications cannot be fully automated. This means that admissions professionals must read through each one individually, which is no small task. Most colleges and universities use application fees to offset related expenses. This is particularly relevant for private schools, which are, first and foremost, businesses.

It is important to realize, however, that there are ways around paying application fees. Some students from low-income families can qualify for waivers. Skip ahead for more information about avoiding this expense.

Most Expensive Fees in the US


Some institutions charge significantly more than others, often in an attempt to curb the number of applicants each year. The schools with the highest application fees range from $75 to $90. It is important to carefully research this financial obligation before deciding which schools to apply to. Identifying the colleges and universities that have the highest fees can be helpful, especially for students planning to submit multiple applications.

While prospective students should never shy away from applying to a college or university that offers the education they want, limiting the number of high-cost applications may be a fiscally responsible decision. Students should consider making a list of the institutions they are interested in and the corresponding application fees. This will help them weigh their options more carefully.

25 of the Highest Fees by College


Stanford University

University of Southern California

Columbia University - NY

Duke University

North Carolina State University - Raleigh

Boston College

Boston University

Brandeis University

Cornell University

Dartmouth College

New York University

University of Connecticut

University of Massachusetts - Amherst

University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

University of North Carolina - Wilmington

Villanova University

Yale University

Barnard College

Bentley University

Brown University

California Institute of Technology

Carnegie Mellon University

The College of New Jersey

College of William and Mary

Cooper Union

Colleges in The US With No Fees


Not all colleges and universities charge an application fee. In fact, there are several top-ranked institutions with free submission options. There are a few reasons a school may choose to lower or eliminate application costs. In most cases, these schools want to encourage more students to apply. This may be in response to a low enrollment year, a growing or expanding campus, or a desire to appeal to more diverse populations.

Additionally, some schools that charge a fee for traditional paper applications offer a free electronic submission alternative. This means that students who apply using the institution’s online platform can lock in significant savings.

Colleges With No Fee by State


Alabama

Alaska

Arizona

Arkansas

California

Colorado

Connecticut

Delaware

Florida

Georgia

Hawaii

Idaho

Illinois

Indiana

Iowa

Kansas

Kentucky

Louisiana

Maine

Maryland

Massachusetts

Michigan

Minnesota

Mississippi

Missouri

Montana

Nebraska

Nevada

New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota

Ohio

Oklahoma

Oregon

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Vermont

Virginia

Washington

Washington, D.C.

West Virginia

Wisconsin

Wyoming

Ways to Get Fees Waived


What is a Fee Waiver?

One way to avoid the potentially expensive cost of applying to college is to secure a fee waiver. These are usually awarded to students who demonstrate a preset level of financial need. Some colleges and universities also provide fee waivers to students who meet certain requirements, such as visiting the campus in person for a tour. While many institutions offer in-house waivers or accept government waivers, it is important to realize that not all do. Students will need to research each school’s policies thoroughly before beginning the application process.

Additionally, fee waivers must be attained before applying. Colleges and universities will not allow you to retroactively apply for a waiver or provide a refund for the fee. As a result, those seeking this financial aid option must do so in advance. Information about institutional fee waivers is rarely included in the application itself; prospective students are encouraged to contact the school’s financial aid department or admissions office for information on waivers.

How Do I Get a Fee Waiver?

Fortunately, there are numerous ways for students to acquire college application fee waivers. While many of these options require a separate application process, being denied through one agency does not mean obtaining waivers is impossible.

SAT Fee Waivers


Eligible students demonstrating financial need may be given a College Board SAT testing fee waiver by their school counselor. This lets students take the SAT and SAT Subject Tests for free, but it also has other benefits. Recipients also receive school reports to send to colleges and waived application fees at participating colleges. Students are usually provided with four college application fee waivers.

Eligibility is based on the following:

  • Enrollment in the National School Lunch Program
  • Enrollment in other government programs for low-income students
  • Member of a family with income that falls within the Income Eligibility Guidelines
  • Member of a family receiving public assistance
  • Residency in federally subsidized public housing or a foster home

Students who are homeless or classified as a ward of the state or orphan may also qualify.

ACT Fee Waivers


Similarly, students may be eligible for an ACT fee waiver. Recipients can take the ACT (no writing) or the ACT with writing for free, as well as request up to 20 additional score reports without charge. Additionally, students can complete a Request for Waiver or Deferral of College Admission Application fee form for use during their application process. The requirements for eligibility are much like those for the SAT fee waiver.

  • Realize Your College Potential Program

    The College Board also offers assistance through the Realize Your College Potential Program. Students who are ranked in the top ten to fifteen percent of their class but in the bottom third in family income may participate in the program. Those who qualify receive helpful resources related to choosing, applying to, and attending college after high school graduation. The packet also includes application fee waivers for participating institutions.

  • Online Applications

    As previously mentioned, some colleges and universities waive application fees when students choose to apply online instead of via traditional paper submission. Not all schools offer this option, but applicants do not have to demonstrate financial need.

  • Institution Visits

    Students may also receive application fee waivers for visiting the institution in person. This type of waiver is available to all prospective students at select colleges and universities. Students may, however, have to plan their tour within a certain time period. Additionally, some schools do not advertise this perk.

  • NACAC Fee Waivers

    The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) offers approximately four college application fee waivers to students who qualify. Fee Waiver Forms from the NACAC can often be obtained from a high school counselor. Counselors should, however, be NACAC members and students must meet a variety of finance-related requirements. In most cases, students who qualify for SAT and ACT fee waivers are eligible.

  • Individual Requests

    Most colleges and universities allow prospective students to request an application fee waiver through their financial aid departments. In many cases, students must be able to demonstrate some level of financial need. Individuals with high GPAs and test scores who are being actively pursued by an institution, however, may be awarded a waiver based on merit.