What You Need To Know About College Application Fees

College expenses start even before you enroll in a college, starting with the application fees. Granted the application fees are negligible when compared to the cost of college, but these small amounts can still add up. More so if you apply to several colleges in an attempt to increase your chances of acceptance.


Paying for every application you send out can seem unfair. Do colleges really need to charge application fees on top of their steep college fees? Do all colleges charge the same application fee? What about getting a fee waiver? Is there any way to lower the overall cost of applications? This article answers all of these questions.

Why Do Colleges Have Application Fees?

There are two main reasons why most colleges charge application fees.

  1. They need to recover the cost of reviewing the hundreds of applications they receive. Colleges usually hire admission specialists to assess applications, answer applicants’ queries, conduct applications, and more. Colleges are able to offset these high costs by charging application fees. The application fees are used strictly to cover the costs involved in the admissions process – not for any other purpose.
  2. It ensures that the college only receives applications from students serious about attending their school. If applications were free, students would apply to every school possible to increase their chances of getting accepted. However, schools would then receive an overwhelming number of applications. Half of these would be from students who’ve applied simply to hedge their bets. Assessing all of these applications would be a waste of time and money for the college. Charging application fees is a way to prevent students from gaming the system.

Why Different Schools Charge Different Fees

Every school uses their own formula to calculate the cost of assessing applications. They then charge a fee that covers their costs. Some colleges base their fees on how many applications they receive and how selective their admission process is. It’s not just the application fee that varies from school to school. All other costs, from tuition to accommodation varies from one school to another.

Not All Schools Have Fees

In an interesting departure from tradition, some colleges don’t charge any application fee. Rather than limit the applications they receive, they welcome applications from all students. These schools believe that charging an application fee would limit the pool of students who would apply. On the other hand, eliminating their application fee offers greater access to a more diverse student cohort.

There Are Fee Waivers

Students who demonstrate financial need may be able to get a fee waiver. If you were eligible for a SAT fee waiver, you would generally be granted an application fee waiver too. You may also qualify if your family income falls within a specified amount or if you receive certain government aid for low-income families. It’s worth taking the time to explore waiver eligibility. If you meet the requirements, you could save a lot of money on your applications. In most cases, you will need to have your eligibility verified by your high school counselor or other recognized authority.

If you’re not sure whether you’re eligible, call the school’s financial aid office and ask. Some colleges even offer application fee waivers to students who made an official on-campus visit.

Strategies to Lower the Overall Cost of Application Fees

Application fees can vary significantly from one college to another. These fees can range anywhere from $25 to $60, so if you’re planning on applying to 10 colleges the cost can be substantial. These are some ways you can lower the overall cost:

Narrow your list of colleges. You may be tempted to apply to more colleges in an attempt to increase your chances of getting accepted. But are all the colleges on your shortlist really a good fit for you? You may dream of going to a certain college, but if it’s not a good fit you may want to reconsider. Even if all the schools on your list are a good fit, what are your chances of getting accepted? If your chances of getting accepted are low, is it really worth applying to that college? Be realistic when making your college shortlist and only apply to those colleges that are a good fit and where you have a good enough chance of getting accepted. 

Apply for SAT/ACT test fee waivers. It costs $47.50 to register for a standard SAT test and $50.50 to register for an ACT test. If you take each test multiple times, the fees will add up. You could get your SAT/ACT fees waived if you meet certain requirements. If you are eligible to get these fees waived, that fee waiver also applies towards your application fees.

Request for a fee waiver on the Common Application. If you did not get a SAT/ACT fee waiver, you can still request to be considered when filling the Common Application. This application has a field where students can put in a fee waiver request based on their financial situation. You will need to submit a financial need verification signed by your high school counselor or other accepted authority.

Ask the college directly. There’s nothing wrong with asking the college directly for an application fee waiver. Call the school’s admission office and explain your circumstances and reasons for requesting a waiver. If they think it’s justified and if you can support your request with the relevant documentation, the school may consider it.

Look for schools that don’t charge application fees. When looking for colleges that don’t charge application fees, don’t discount reputed colleges completely. Some highly ranked colleges have waived their application fees because they prefer to have a more diverse student body. You’re sure to find several good-fit colleges among these.

It may take time to implement each of these strategies, but it’s well worth it for the money you’ll save.  

Once you’ve submitted your college application, make sure do these three things.

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