I’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 2020. The IPEDS data is the fee charged for the 2019-20 academic year while the Common Application Data is for the 2020-21 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 2020 Top Ten (there are actually 11 top 10 because of a tie) National Universities would set you back $845 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 521 colleges that charge $50 or more to apply to college, half of them are public institutions (281).
- The number of colleges charging $70 or more has increased to 141 from 115 in 2019 and the number of public schools in the category rose from 51 to 78 for the same time period. Around half of these colleges are in just four states: California (44), Massachusetts (13), New York (12), and Texas (12).
- Nine states had an average application fee of $50 or more for public institutions.
- Private colleges that charged $70 or more to apply had only 28% (up from 22% last year) 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 543 colleges with 500 or more full-time undergraduates that have no application fees, an increase from 540 in 2019. This means that they did not have an application fee for the 2019-20 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 (521).
Furthermore, 205 (down from 221 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 21 of 65 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. This is part of the data that is included in the DIY College Rankings College Search Spreadsheet.
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