January 13, 2020 By College Ave Student Loans

How to Apply to College Without Paying Application Fees

How to Apply to College Without Paying Application Fees

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 36 percent of first-time freshmen applied to seven or more colleges. The application fee for each school can be expensive. On average, each application will cost $77. If you were to apply to seven schools, that means you could expect to spend $539 just on application fees. College costs can add up quickly; for families looking to save some cash, finding ways to save on application fees can make a big difference.

There are several ways to apply to colleges without spending a dime.

5 ways to save on application fees[1]

If you can’t afford to pay college application fees, don’t get discouraged. There are programs and initiatives in place that can help. You can skip paying the application fees with these five tips:

1. Apply online

When it comes to applying to colleges, many students still use a paper application and apply through the mail. However, juggling all that paperwork can be overwhelming — and expensive.

You can save money by submitting your application online. Several colleges and universities waive the fee for online applications. As an added perk, the online application process means you’ll be able to submit your materials faster.  You may even get a response sooner than if you mailed in your application.

The Auburn University at MontgomeryThomas Aquinas College, and Bryn Mawr College are just a few examples of schools that waive application fees for online applicants. When reviewing potential schools, check with their admissions department to see if they offer any incentives for applying online.

2. Schedule a campus visit

Schools value one-on-one interactions, and they encourage high school students to visit their campuses to get a real taste of what being a student would be like. To show their appreciation for taking the time to tour the school, many colleges and universities will waive your application fee after completing a campus tour.

For example, Alfred University, Elizabethtown College, and McDaniel College will waive your application fee if you take a scheduled campus tour through their admissions department.

If you go this route, make sure you limit campus tours to schools you’re truly interested in to avoid wasting money on gas, airfare, or hotel accommodations. Staying local and visiting schools that are within driving distance or that are connected to public transportation can also help reduce your costs.

Contact the school’s admissions department to schedule a tour and to confirm if they will waive the application fee.

3. Use a standardized application

The Coalition, Common, and Universal College Application are standardized college applications you can use to apply to many different schools at once, cutting down on your application fees.

4. Request a fee waiver

Some schools will waive application fees if the student is facing economic hardship. Colleges that waive application fees include big-name schools like American University, Cornell University, and Harvard.  According to The College Board, you may also qualify for an application fee waiver for standardized applications — including the Coalition, Common, and Universal College Application — if you received a fee waiver when you took the SAT.

You may be eligible for the SAT fee waiver — and application fee waiver — if you meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • You’re enrolled in or are eligible for the National School Lunch program
  • Your family income is within the income eligibility guidelines set by the USDA
  • You’re enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that helps students from low-income families
  • Your family receives public assistance
  • You live in federally subsidized public housing
  • You’re in foster care or are homeless
  • You are a ward of the state or an orphan

You can use The College Board’s database of participating schools to find out if your selected university accepts fee waivers.

5. Ask your guidance counselor for help

If you can’t afford the application fees and have tried these other options, another alternative is to go to your high school guidance counselor for help. Explain your financial situation and ask the guidance counselor to write a letter to your selected colleges. Some schools, such as Dartmouth, will waive the application fee if you submit a form signed by a guidance counselor.

Applying to colleges

Applying to colleges is stressful enough; you shouldn’t have to worry about paying for application fees. By using these tips, you can save money on application fees and apply to your top schools free of charge.

When in doubt, simply ask the financial aid office for assistance. Schools want to make things easier for students, so they may be willing to work with you if you can’t afford the fees.

If you’re planning on going to college in the fall, make sure you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to ensure you get all the financial aid you’re entitled to receive.


[1] Specific educational institutions referenced in this article are listed for example purposes only. College Ave does not endorse specific educational institutions.