I’ve updated the free college application fees list based on the Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and information from the Common Application available in October 2019. The IPEDS data is the fee charged for the 2018-19 academic year while the Common Application Data is for the 2019-20 year. Yes, it’s very possible the data reported by IPEDS will not be valid for the coming year. But it’s what is available.
Everyone knows the cost of higher education is spiraling out of control. Did you know that the cost to apply to college has reached equally outrageous levels? Applying to US News 2019 Top Ten (there are actually 11 top 10 because of a tie) National Universities would set you back $855 in application fees with a low of $70 to a high of $90. Only two schools charged less than $75. That doesn’t include the cost of sending in testing scores reports.
Just how bad is the situation? Consider the following:
- There are 519 colleges that charge $50 or more to apply to college, half of them are public institutions.
- The number of colleges charging $70 or more has increased to 115 from 106 in 2018 and the number of public schools in the category rose from 48 to 51 for the same time period. Around half of these colleges are in just four states: California (21), Massachusetts (13), New York (12), and Texas (11).
- Eight states had an average application fee of $50 or more for public institutions.
- Private colleges that charged $70 or more to apply had only 22% of freshman with Pell Grants while those that charged less averaged 41%
If you have limited funds, would you spend them on applying to colleges with less than a 30% chance of getting in? Of course, if you do get in, the chances are that you will have your full financial need met. But given the limited number of testing waivers available to students for the SAT and especially the ACT, how many take the chance?
Colleges with No Application Fees
So what’s a frugal student to do? There are at least 540 colleges with 500 or more full-time undergraduates that have no application fees, an increase from 527 in 2018. This means that they did not have an application fee for the 2018-19 school year or will waive them if you apply online through the Common Application. Once again there are more colleges waiving the fee than those with fees over $50.
Furthermore, 221 (up from183 from last year) have graduation rates of 50% or greater. (Download the complete 50-50 list for free.) I use the four-year rate for private colleges and the five-year rate for public institutions. And 23 of 59 colleges where tests are “Neither required nor recommended” have free application fees.
The College Board also lists colleges that will consider fee waivers and are free to apply to. However, after doing some spot checks on schools listed as free that didn’t show up on the IPEDS list, I decided not to include them since they were very wrong. By “very wrong” I mean I don’t think these schools have ever had free application fees.
CollegeXpress also has a list of colleges that are free to apply to. I have no idea of the reliability of the list. Niche also has a list of Top Colleges with No Application Fee that students might find useful. You can also find a list by state at PrepScholar.
The following table is based on the Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and consists of schools that have 500 or more full-time undergraduates. The four-year graduation rate is used for private schools, the five-year rate for public. This is part of the data that is included in the DIY College Rankings College Search Spreadsheet.
Colleges with No Application Fees
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