426 Colleges with Free College Application Fees

student looking at colleges with free application feesThe free college application fees list has been updated based on the Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and information from the Common Application available in August of 2016. The IPEDS data is the fee charged for the 2015-16 academic year while the Common Application Data is for the 2016-17 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 Top Ten National Universities would set you back $775 in application fees with a low of $65 to a high of $90. Only one school 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 501 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 93 from 85 last year and the number of public schools in the category rose from 34 to 39. Just over half of these colleges are in just four states: California (17),  New York (12), Massachusetts (11), and North Carolina (7). Texas had six schools charging $70 or more and Connecticut had five.
  • Twelve states had an average application fee of $50 or more for public institutions.
  • Private colleges that charged $70 or more to apply had only 19% 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?

Free College Application Fees

So what’s a frugal student to do? There are 426 colleges that have free application fees, an increase from 413 last year. This means that they did not have an application fee for the 2015-16 school year or will waive them if you apply online through Common Application. That’s still fewer than those that charge $50 or more, but it is a ray of hope.

Furthermore, 172 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 25 of 60 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 even had free application fees.

CollegeXpress also has a list of colleges 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 students 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 Free Application Fees
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Sample DIY College Rankings College Search Spreadsheet


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  1. […] Not all colleges charge students to apply. Stephanie Kinkaid, assistant career services director at Monmouth College, advises students to “check online to see if the college in which you are interested in offers free online applications.” Kinkaid notes that the many colleges offering free online applications include Millikin University, Smith College, and Drake University. Juniata College, Colby College, and Carleton College are just a few more top schools that don’t charge application fees. […]

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