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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

The True Cost of Applying to College + Tips for Saving Money

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What’s Covered:


Applying to college is a stressful (and fun!) process. While you’ve probably already thought about submitting your transcript, test scores, personal statement, and supplemental essays, many students are surprised to learn that there are often fees associated with college applications.


Most schools have application fees, and they vary. So, when you’re planning out your finances surrounding college, you have to factor these in. Luckily, there are ways to get application fees reduced or waived in order to save money. 


In this post, we’ll explore the average cost of application fees and provide tips on how you can save money when applying to college.


How Much Do College Applications Cost?


According to US News, on average, college applications cost about $44 each. In practice, how much applications cost depends on the school. Here are some examples:


School Name

Cost of Application

Princeton University


Harvard University


Columbia University


Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Yale University


Stanford University


University of Chicago


University of Pennsylvania


California Institute of Technology


Johns Hopkins University


Northwestern University


Duke University


Dartmouth College


Brown University


Vanderbilt University


Rice University 


Washington University in St. Louis


Cornell University


University of Notre Dame


University of California- Los Angeles



Say you’re applying to the average amount of schools for a US student, between 7 and 10. You’re looking at spending upwards of $400 on applications alone.


Why does it cost money to apply to college? There are two main reasons:


  • Colleges use application fees to pay the people who are reviewing them! College admissions offices often employ many people, and charging application fees helps them maintain a large staff.


  • Application fees help to thin out the applicant pool, allowing schools to focus on qualified, enthusiastic students. Some schools, particularly selective, well-known schools, charge high fees to discourage applications from students who aren’t invested in their school. They want students who are serious enough about attending their institution that they’re willing to spend a large amount of money on the application.


How to Get College Application Fee Waivers


Most of the time, students will need to demonstrate some form of financial need to qualify for a fee waiver. Even if you qualify, you will likely have to submit multiple applications establishing your eligibility. One of the most common ways to demonstrate this need is qualifying for an SAT waiver. If you qualify for an SAT waiver, you will likely qualify for a college application waiver.


Common eligibility requirements include:


  • Qualifying for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program
  • Demonstrating a family income below $45,000 for a family of four
  • Being a ward of the state or an orphan
  • Living in a foster home, federally subsidized housing, or being homeless
  • Receiving public assistance


Some other ways you can get a fee waiver include:


  • Applying directly through the school’s financial aid office
  • Showing that you are a legacy applicant
  • Touring the school


If you ask the financial aid office directly, and can demonstrate that you have financial need, it’s very possible that they can waive that fee for you! Many schools also have policies prioritizing applicants whose parents or grandparents are alumni, and you could possibly get a fee waiver as a perk. Finally, a lot of schools will offer a fee waiver as an incentive to get potential students to tour the campus and apply. All of these depend on the school you are applying to, so make sure to do your research on each individual school. 


Other Ways to Apply to College for Free


Not everyone qualifies for fee waivers, but most of us still want to save money! So what can you do?


Apply to colleges without application fees


There are many colleges with no application fee. Some of these schools include:


  • Baylor University
  • Gannon University
  • Liberty University
  • Maryville University of St. Louis
  • Oakland University
  • Texas Wesleyan University
  • Tulane University
  • University of the Pacific


Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.


Sign up for the Student Search Service


When you take the PSAT, SAT, or an AP test, you will get the opportunity to sign up for the CollegeBoard’s Student Search Service. This resource will share your contact information with schools where your academic profile resembles their typical applicant. It’s a great way to learn about new schools and upcoming events with admissions officers in your area, but some schools also will send you application fee waivers in the mail or by email.


See if you qualify for QuestBridge


QuestBridge partners with 40 prestigious colleges and universities in the US to offer the National College Match scholarship. It covers the full attendance of each school with no parental contribution and no student loans. You may have to contribute through a work study program, but it’s better than student loans! Eligible students are high-achieving and come from low-income families.


What About Other College Admissions Expenses?




Unfortunately, there are also fees associated with taking the SAT and/or ACT. The SAT costs $55 and the ACT is $60 without Writing and $85 with Writing. It’s recommended that you take the SAT or ACT at least twice to maximize your score, especially if your school superscores. These costs can add up quickly! However, there are fee waivers available for both the SAT and ACT.


You are eligible for an SAT waiver if you meet one or more of the following criteria:


  • Your family income lies below Income Eligibility Guidelines (USDA)
  • You take part in a federal, state, or local program aiding students from low-income families
  • You receive public assistance
  • You live in federally subsidized housing, a foster home, or are homeless
  • You are a ward of the state or orphan


Many test takers that qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program qualify for a fee waiver as well. To get the waiver, you will need to apply with the SAT. 


The ACT has similar guidelines for their waivers. You should work with your high school counselor to determine if you are eligible and request a waiver from the CollegeBoard.


CSS Profile


The College Scholarship Service (CSS) is a profile managed by the CollegeBoard. Students can build this profile to help determine the institutional aid they may be eligible to receive. Unfortunately, it costs $25 to file the initial CSS Profile for one school, and $16 for each additional school. Luckily, there are fee waivers for this too! You qualify for a fee waiver if one or more of the criteria below apply to you:


  • You received an SAT fee waiver
  • The parental income you reported on your application is approximately $45,000 or less for a family of four
  • You are an orphan or ward of the court under the age of 24


Visiting Colleges


First off, let’s be clear–you don’t have to visit EVERY college you apply to. That can get really costly, plus it may not be worth it for your backup schools. So, the first thing you need to do is decide your three top-priority schools, and check out their visiting policies. This is much easier, if you are planning on attending an in-state school, or a school close to you. If you’re planning on attending an out-of-state school, it may not be worth it to visit in person due to travel fees. 


With that said, some schools will cover costs for you to visit them! If you are a low-income, first-generation, and/or student of color, you may qualify for a fly-in or diversity program. If that doesn’t work for you, many schools allow you to have a “virtual visit”. Usually, you can visit the school’s website and click your way across campus, all from the comfort of your home!


Private Counselors


Due to the increasingly competitive nature of the college admissions process, private college counseling is a rapidly-expanding industry. However, this industry is not well-regulated, meaning it is up to students and their families to properly vet the experience and credentials of any potential college counselor before paying large sums for their services. 


The job of a college counselor is to review your credentials, and compile a list of colleges and universities that are likely to meet your needs and accept you. They will also help you with your applications and essays. Then, depending on the service, they can assist in choosing majors, asking for recommendation letters, financial aid, and more. 


However, these services don’t come cheap. According to the Independent Educational Consultant Association, in 2017 the average hourly compensation for a private college counselor was $200. Based on that hourly rate, a comprehensive package could cost thousands of dollars. 


CollegeVine’s Free Resources


After reading about all the expenses that can be associated with college admissions, you may be wondering what free resources are available. Luckily, CollegeVine is here to help!


Here at CollegeVine, we want you to get into your dream school! To help you do that, we offer a bunch of free resources all geared toward helping you reach your goals. Here are some of our favorites:


Chancing Engine


When you sign up for a free account, you will also be able to tell your chances of acceptance based on grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and more! Our Chancing Engine uses all the data we’ve accumulated about college admissions to give you a clear idea of how likely you are to be admitted to hundreds of schools. Try it before you apply so you know if you want to pay that application fee!



The CollegeVine Communities


Our CollegeVine community forums include your peers as well as admissions experts. You can get expert advice on your pressing college questions, and not just about admissions! If you have questions about standardized tests, scholarships, or anything else related to your college journey, our (FREE!) community is here to help. 


CollegeVine Livestreams


We have hundreds of livestreams that cover all the topics you’re concerned about when it comes to college. We have Q&As with current students, essay-writing tips, Pre-Med track advice, admissions overviews, and more. We’ve compiled hundreds of hours of information to help you with any question you have, before, during, and after the college application process. 


Live Profile Reviews


On top of all these resources, we also offer LIVE reviews of your admissions profile! Our expert hosts review real, anonymized student profiles. For each profile we share our assessment of your academics, extracurricular resume, and overall profile and make recommendations for enhancements. We also have a whole playlist of past live reviews that you can use to refresh your profile!


Short Bio
Hi! I’m Cheyenne. I help educational institutions inform stakeholders and the wider public about the offerings available to them.

After graduating with my BA in History, and MA in Teaching, I knew education was my passion. Maverick Educational Copywriting was born out of my desire to make all levels of education accessible to students, families, alumni, and all other potential stakeholders. I believe education is at the heart of a healthy society, and making it understandable is a huge start! When not writing, I am usually spending time with my husband and dog, most likely hiking a new trail!