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616 Colleges with No Application Fees for 2021

student looking at colleges with free application feesI’ve updated the list of colleges with no application fees list based on the Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and information from the Common Application available in October 2021. The IPEDS data is the fee charged for the 2020-21 academic year while the Common Application Data is for the 2021-22 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.

College Application Fees can be Expensive!

Everyone knows the cost of higher education is spiraling out of control. Did you know that just the cost to apply to college has reached equally outrageous levels? Applying to US News 2021 Top Ten (there are actually 12 top 10 because of a tie) National Universities would set you back $930 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 489 colleges that charge $50 or more to apply to college, half of them are public institutions. This is actually good news. It looks like COVID caused a number of schools to decrease their application fee from the previous year. In 2019-20 there were 521 schools with fees over $50.
  • Unfortunately, this drop didn’t happen at the higher end of the fee scale. The number of colleges charging $70 or more has held study at 142 compared to 141 in 2019 and the number of public schools in the category rose from 78 to 79 for the same time period. Around half of these colleges are in just four states: California (44), Massachusetts (13), Texas (12), and New York (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 18% (down from 28% last year) of freshman with Pell Grants while those that charged less averaged 38% (down from 41%). It looks like COVID hit poor students in college across the spectrum.

The interesting thing is that the test services have actually expanded the fee waiver benefits. Both the ACT and SAT allow for free unlimited score reports to colleges (probably since so many colleges are allowing students to self-report scores). In fact, if you qualify for a fee waiver from the SAT, most colleges are now waiving their application fees. Yet, the most elite schools in the country still can’t attract lower income students. You can’t help but think it’s just easier to admit partial pay (merit or need) than full need students.

Colleges with No Application Fees

Still, for those who don’t qualify for a fee waiver, $70 a pop adds up. So what’s a frugal student to do? There are at least 616 colleges with 500 or more full-time undergraduates that have no application fees, an increase from 543 in 2020. This means that they did not have an application fee for the 2020-21 school year or will waive them if you apply online through the Common Application. Once again there are more colleges with no application fee than those with fees over $50 (489).

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Furthermore, 274 (up from 205 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 given it was the first year of COVID, it’s not surprising that 54 (up from 21) of the 105 (up from 65) colleges where tests are “Neither required nor recommended” have free application fees.

As mentioned earlier, The College Board also lists colleges that will consider fee waivers and are free to apply to. You can search for individual colleges or list them by state. However, after checking for two states, I found it was missing the majority of the 4-year institutions listed in IPEDS. The list is probably best for identifying schools that accept the SAT waivers.

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 of colleges with no application fees is based on the Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and consists of schools that have 500 or more full-time undergraduates. This is part of the data that is included in the DIY College Rankings College Search Spreadsheet.

616 Colleges with No Application Fees

wdt_ID Name Type State Full-time Under-grads 4/5 yr Grad-uation Rate % Admit-ted Avg Net Price 2019-20
1 Auburn University at Montgomery Pub AL 3,374 24 96 14,182
2 Huntingdon College Pri AL 789 33 54 22,026
3 Miles College Pri AL 1,354 14 14,740
4 Spring Hill College Pri AL 1,034 46 54 23,067
5 University of North Alabama Pub AL 4,708 45 83 13,279
6 University of Alaska Anchorage Pub AK 4,721 26 77 11,283
7 Arizona Christian University Pri AZ 779 38 71 28,962
8 Arkansas Tech University Pub AR 6,227 38 98 11,277
9 Henderson State University Pub AR 2,334 31 75 14,046
10 Hendrix College Pri AR 1,061 59 71 20,778
11 Lyon College Pri AR 650 37 50 20,495
12 Ouachita Baptist University Pri AR 1,502 54 62 20,534
13 Southern Arkansas University Main Campus Pub AR 2,950 38 69 13,561
14 University of Arkansas at Monticello Pub AR 1,692 24 11,967
15 University of Arkansas-Fort Smith Pub AR 3,811 28 9,209
16 University of the Ozarks Pri AR 826 33 56 16,009
17 Williams Baptist University Pri AR 577 29 69 16,646
18 Brandman University Pri CA 2,090 0 95 24,084
19 CBD College Pri CA 974 20,100
20 Concordia University-Irvine Pri CA 1,538 47 78 29,893
21 Dominican University of California Pri CA 1,229 62 86 36,899
22 Holy Names University Pri CA 591 27 89 23,430
23 La Sierra University Pri CA 1,343 35 57 24,891
24 Menlo College Pri CA 813 46 65 27,052
25 National University Pri CA 3,292 4 89 21,363
Name Type State Full-time Under-grads 4/5 yr Grad-uation Rate % Admit-ted Avg Net Price 2019-20

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Sample DIY College Rankings College Search Spreadsheet






616 Colleges with No Application Fees for 2021