Colleges With No Application Fee and How to Apply

 May 31, 2021
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Colleges with no application fee

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Unfortunately, it isn’t always free to apply to a college or university. Although there are a handful of colleges with no application fee, the majority will charge money.

If you apply to seven to 10 schools, you could be spending hundreds of dollars on application fees alone — and that doesn’t take into account the money you’d need to shell out for admissions tests or campus visits.

Fortunately, there are colleges out there that let you skip out on the expensive application fees. Check out our list below of sample schools without application fees, along with information on the following topics:

10 colleges with no application fees

There is a wide variety of universities and colleges that offer no-fee applications. Here is a selection of 10 such schools to give you an idea of the many types of institutions that’ll let you apply for free, while a much longer list of several hundred schools is featured further below.

Keep in mind that application fee policies can change from year to year, so you may want to check whether your favorite schools have fee-free applications before you get to work filling out the application.

1. Carleton College
2. Colby College
3. Grinnell College
4. Kenyon College
5. Macalester College
6. Reed College
7. Smith College
8. Tulane University
9. U.S. Military Academy at West Point
10. Wellesley College

1. Carleton College

  • Location: Northfield, Minn.
  • Net price: $30,843
  • Acceptance rate: 21%

Carleton College is located just outside the “Twin Cities” of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minn. This liberal arts school offers 54 majors and minors to its students, as well as small classrooms — the student/faculty ratio is 8:1. About 88% of Carleton students graduate within four years with 70% of students eventually going on to graduate school within eight years.

2. Colby College

  • Location: Waterville, Maine
  • Net price: $18,552
  • Acceptance rate: 10%

This private, liberal arts college was founded in 1813 and offers 56 majors. There are about 2,100 students that attend Colby College, with a large majority of them living on campus. One unique aspect of Colby College is its commitment to carbon neutrality — the school balances its carbon emissions by offsetting it through various means.

3. Grinnell College

  • Location: Grinnell, Iowa
  • Net price: $32,091
  • Acceptance rate: 19%

A small, private college, Grinnell College has a student body of just around 1,700 people. This liberal arts school gives potential students the option to submit a preliminary application for those who are unsure about where they want to go to school. However, getting into Grinnell is a competitive process — the school has many eligibility requirements, including four years of English, mathematics and natural science and three years of a foreign language.

4. Kenyon College

  • Location: Gambier, Ohio
  • Net price: $40,862
  • Acceptance rate: 37%

Located in a small town in Ohio, Kenyon College offers more than 50 majors and is well-known for its literary program. This private school also offers merit and talent scholarships in areas like art, music and writing, as well as its STEM and KEEP scholarships (the latter of which is aimed at first-generation students and those from underrepresented backgrounds). With a 9:1 student-faculty ratio, Grinnell may be a good fit for those seeking smaller classes — most classrooms have less than 20 people.

5. Macalester College

  • Location: Saint Paul, Minn.
  • Net price: $35,589
  • Acceptance rate: 39%

Established in 1874 by a Civil War chaplain, Macalester College is located in Saint Paul, one of Minnesota’s “Twin Cities.” There’s an average number of 17 students per classroom, and Macalester notably has one of the highest acceptance rates on our list. A four-year, nonprofit school, Macalester offers 64 areas of study and a student body made up of over 2,000 students representing 98 different countries.

6. Reed College

  • Location: Portland, Ore.
  • Net price: $33,980
  • Acceptance rate: 42%

Reed College’s classroom style is unique: It offers conference-style classrooms and labs to encourage students to engage with subject matter. The campus is located on 116 acres and all on-campus housing is gender inclusive. About 1,500 undergraduate students attend Reed, and the average classroom size is about 16 people.

7. Smith College

  • Location: Northampton, Mass.
  • Net price: $28,422
  • Acceptance rate: 37%

A women’s college that started out in 1871 with just 14 students, Smith College now pulls students from all over the U.S. While the college only admits women into its undergraduate program, both men and women are eligible to attend the school’s graduate programs. Over 2,100 students attend Smith and study within the school’s 50-plus academic departments.

8. Tulane University

  • Location: New Orleans
  • Net price: $47,413
  • Acceptance rate: 11%

A member of the Association of American Universities, this private college is heavily focused on research. This university was originally established as the Medical College of Louisiana, a public school, but transitioned into Tulane University in 1884, after wealthy businessman Paul Tulane donated over $1 million in funds and assets to the school. And though it has a student body of nearly 8,000 students, Tulane focuses on small class sizes and offers more than 75 majors and minors.

9. United States Military Academy at West Point

  • Location: West Point, N.Y.
  • Net price: Not available
  • Acceptance rate: 9%

A prestigious military school, the United States Military Academy at West Point has the lowest acceptance rate on our list due to its rigorous standards. To be considered eligible for West Point admissions, you’ll need to be between the ages of 17 and 23, unmarried, not pregnant and not responsible for child support; you must also be a U.S. citizen, though there are some exceptions for international students.

10. Wellesley College

  • Location: Wellesley, Mass.
  • Net price: $21,614
  • Acceptance rate: 20%

Wellesley College is a women’s college that was founded in 1870. Wellesley is a small, private school of only 2,350 enrolled students, and has a highly selective admissions process. Some of this school’s most well-known former students are Madeleine Korbel Albright (class of 1959) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (class of 1969).

How to apply to colleges with no application fees

1. Search for colleges with no application fee

Many colleges charge an application fee as a way to filter out students who aren’t serious about attending. But some let you apply for free, so you can send off your materials without worrying about the cost. A school might also let you apply for free if you do so through the Common Application, an application management tool that lets you seek admission to several colleges at once.

Although an application fee shouldn’t prevent you from finding your dream school, seeking out at least some colleges with no application fee could be a savvy way to save money throughout the process.

2. Request a college application fee waiver

Although most colleges do charge a fee to apply, you might be able to eliminate the cost with a college application fee waiver. The College Board, the Common Application and National Association for College Admission (NACAC) are three organizations that offer fee waivers to students with financial need.

To qualify for a fee waiver, you’ll need to meet certain income requirements. These could include:

  • Being eligible for the Federal Free or Reduced Price Lunch program (FRPL)
  • Having a family household income that falls within the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service’s Income Eligibility Guidelines
  • Being enrolled in a program that aids students from low-income families

You can make college application fee waiver requests online, but it’s worth speaking with your school counselor about the process. Your counselor might already have waivers they can distribute to qualifying students.

Even if you don’t get one of these waivers, you might be able to snag one by speaking to the admissions office of your target school directly. If you explain that the application fees present a barrier for you and your family, an admissions officer might be able to help.

3. Make the most of SAT or ACT fee waivers

Not only will an SAT fee waiver potentially lead to a college application fee waiver, but it could save you serious money on testing fees. Admissions exam fees can add up quickly, especially if you’re taking these tests multiple times or opting for SAT Subject Tests on top of the main exam.

Reach out to your school counselor to see if you can qualify for SAT or ACT fee waivers, which let you take your chosen test for free twice. Plus, the SAT fee waiver gets rid of fees for up to six subject tests.

Eligibility requirements are largely the same as those mentioned above, including having a household income that falls within certain guidelines. Considering the SAT requires a registration fee of $60 and the ACT with writing goes for $88, fee waivers could save you a significant amount as you get ready for college.

4. Be strategic about your campus visits

Visiting campuses can be an exciting and enlightening part of the college selection process, as it gives you firsthand insight into whether a college could be the right fit for you.

However, traveling to visit college campuses can quickly add up and become a financial hurdle. If you’re interested in getting a feel for the school but can’t afford to travel there, consider opting for a virtual tour instead. While it’s not the same as visiting in person, you might still get to explore the facilities online without having to spend a dime on travel.

If the colleges you’re interested in don’t offer virtual tours, you can still find ways to make your visits more affordable, perhaps by hitting several campuses in one day if they’re located close to each other.

5. Consider early action or early decision

If you have a dream school in mind, consider applying early action (EA) or early decision (ED). With these accelerated deadlines, you’ll typically apply in the fall and get notified of a decision before December.

If you get accepted, you won’t have to worry about sending off other college applications and racking up additional fees. But be careful about applying for early decision if you’re not certain about your choice — this binding option stipulates that you’ll attend the college if you get in.

Plus, it’s probably not worth it applying this way if you’re rushing to get your essay written and recommendations collected. While saving money on application fees is an important goal, you’ll also want to send off the strongest application you can.

More colleges with no application fee

Below you’ll find a list of many other universities and colleges without application fees — though here too, you’ll want to check with the school before beginning the application process. Note that in some cases, applications are free online but carry a fee if you use a paper application.

This list is by no means exhaustive, so check with other schools as well — especially since policies may change.

Find ways to save money before you get to campus

Although application and testing fees might pale in comparison to tuition costs, they could still add up to hundreds of dollars. If the fees are burdensome, reach out to your school counselor and admissions officers about fee waivers.

And make sure to pursue financial aid along the way by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), applying for scholarships and comparing costs of attendance at multiple colleges.

By being mindful about costs, you can save throughout the college application process and ultimately find a school that fits your financial goals, as well as your academic goals.