What You Need To Know About College Application Fees

College expenses start even before you pay your deposit to enroll in a college. College application fees are one expense many students forget about. Granted, these costs can be negligible when compared to the cost of college, but it can still add up if you’re planning to apply to several colleges.

Paying for every application you send out can seem unfair – after all, why do colleges charge these fees? Why do some schools have no fee at all? And is it possible to get a fee waiver? We answer these questions and more below.


How Much Are College Application Fees?

An undergraduate college application fee amount depends on the college in question. Some schools don’t ask for any payment to apply, while others can ask for up to $100 application fee. In 2022, the average was $45. For graduate student applications, the fee can easily be over $100. For example, Harvard University asks for $85 from undergraduate applicants and $105 from graduate students.

Each college and university uses its own formula to calculate its application fee. If you’re ever curious about what a school will charge you to apply, College Raptor’s College Match tool and each individual school page can tell you under the Admissions tab.

Can You Apply to College For Free?

Yes, in some cases you may be able to apply to your college or university for free. Some schools do not have a required payment for undergraduate students, and almost every college offers a fee waiver.

How Can You Apply for a College Application Fee Waiver?

Students who demonstrate financial need may be eligible for a fee waiver.

If you received a fee waiver for the SAT or ACT, you will generally be accepted for an application fee waiver. Students can also qualify if their family income falls within a specific amount or if they already receive low-income financial aid from the government. In addition, some schools will not require you to pay the application fee if you visit the school for a tour of the campus.

If you are not sure about your eligibility, be sure to reach out to the school’s financial aid office as soon as possible to inquire.

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. Depending on the size of the school, a single university can receive upwards of 50,000 applications a year. Reviewing every one of these applications, reading essays, and conducting interviews takes time and money. College application fees help to cover these costs.
  2. It ensures that the college only receives applications from students serious about attending their school. If applications were free at every school in the United States, more students would apply to colleges they have little to no chance of getting into or have an interest in. Take Harvard University for example. A prestigious school, the $85 fee deters students from applying if they’re not serious about attending the school. Without that fee, they could easily be overwhelmed with incoming applications. Assessing all of these would be a waste of time and money.

Why Different Schools Charge Different Fees

Every school uses its 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.

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 applying. On the other hand, eliminating their application fee offers greater access to a more diverse student cohort.

5 Tips For Lowering The Cost of College Application Fees

To reduce the amount you’re paying for college application fees, follow these tips.

1. Narrow Down Your List of Colleges

You might be tempted to apply to every and any college that interests you, but this is a good way to become overwhelmed in both time and fees. By creating a short list, you can find the colleges and universities that match your needs, wants, budget, and more – and really save potentially hundreds of dollars on application fees.

2. Apply for SAT/ACT Test Fee Waivers

Every time you sit for the SAT or ACT, it’s going to cost you money. If you take each test multiple times, the fees will add up. However, you may be eligible for a fee waiver. You should apply for these if you think there is even a chance you will be approved. A fee waiver now could mean you’re eligible for college application fee waivers down the line.

3. Request a Fee Waiver for the Common App

The Common App is a great way to apply to several colleges at once, and save money by doing so. If you’re financially eligible, you could save further money by getting your Common App fee waived. You will need to submit a financial need verification form signed by your high school counselor or other accepted authority though to apply.

4. 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.

5. Apply to Schools With No Application Fee

Not every big-name school out there requires an application fee, and many have done away with them to reduce financial hardships for students. If you find your costs are getting out of hand and you don’t qualify for a waiver, add a few colleges to your list that skip the fee altogether.

Other College Costs You Need to Be Aware Of

Budgeting for college isn’t just about paying for your tuition. Just getting prepared for the application process can be expensive if you’re planning on applying to other colleges. You should also be budgeting for:

  • Campus visits
  • ACT/SAT test fees
  • ACT/SAT tutoring
  • School tutoring
  • High school and/or college transcript fees
  • College credit and AP courses in high school
  • Textbooks in high school for your college/AP classes
  • AP test costs

College application fees can feel like a way for a school to get money out of you before you even attend the school, but they do serve a purpose. They help to cover the cost of reviewing applications while also deterring students from applying to colleges willy-nilly. If you are struggling to pay these fees, consider applying for fee waivers or searching for colleges that have lower fees or no fees at all.

College Raptor makes it easy to determine whether or not a college will request a fee for applying. To see if your dream school charges you to apply, use our College Match tool today.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Join thousands of students and parents learning about finding the right college, admissions secrets, scholarships, financial aid, and more.