April Maguire 4 min read College Lists

How to Apply to College for Free

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The average high schooler applies to 7-10 schools, including reach, target, and safety colleges. Unfortunately, sending in the applications themselves can cost a pretty penny. The good news is that there are steps you can take to cut application expenses while protecting your academic interests. Read on to discover how to apply to college for free.

 

Cost of Applying to College

 

When families discuss the cost of a college degree, they tend to focus on tuition and room and board. However, the truth is that college costs start adding up before you even get into school. There are standardized test fees, travel costs associated with campus visits, and college application fees. 

 

According to U.S. News & World Report, students can expect to pay an average application cost of $44. With many students applying to 7-10 schools, just submitting college applications can cost $308-$440!

 

Unfortunately, more prestigious schools tend to have even higher fees, with Harvard coming in at $75 and Stanford University charging a whopping $90 per application. As a result, students may hesitate to apply to schools they’re interested in, as they want to save money.

 

How to Apply to College for Free

 

While high application fees can dissuade students from applying to good-fit institutions, there are some free college application options to help talented high schoolers achieve their goals. Moreover, a handful of schools charge no fee at all. Keep reading for tips on finding free college applications, fee waivers, and other options for saving.

 

1. Find Schools Without Application Fees

 

Believe it or not, there are some free colleges to apply to (the application, not the actual tuition, unfortunately!). While many of the schools on the free college applications list are small or religious institutions, some top colleges and universities invite students to apply without fees. Boost your odds of getting into a great school by adding one or more of these fine institutions to your list of colleges:

 

  • Colby College
  • Colgate University
  • Duquesne University
  • Mount Holyoke College
  • Reed College
  • Simmons College
  • Smith College
  • Tulane University
  • US Air Force Academy
  • US Naval Academy
  • Wellesley College

 

2. See if You Can Get a Waiver

 

Even if your dream school doesn’t offer free applications, there are still ways to apply without breaking the bank. Students with demonstrated financial need can typically obtain a fee waiver that allows them to apply to schools for free. In most cases, students who qualify for SAT fee waivers are also eligible for free applications. 

 

Here are the requirements to qualify for college application fee waivers:

 

  • Be enrolled in or eligible for the National School Lunch Program 
  • Have an annual family income within the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Income Eligibility Guidelines
  • Be enrolled in a federal, state, or local program supporting students from low-income families
  • Be part of a family that receives public assistance
  • Live in federally subsidized public housing or a foster home or be homeless
  • Be an orphan or ward of the state

 

If you meet one or more of the above criteria, you should qualify for college application fee waivers through the Common App and Coalition Application. You can verify your eligibility on each platform, and formally request a waiver there.

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3. See if You Qualify for QuestBridge

 

QuestBridge helps high-achieving students from low-income families achieve their college dreams. Along with covering the cost of application fees, QuestBridge provides students with full scholarships that pay for tuition, room and board, books, and even travel expenses. Here are a few of the 40 prestigious institutions covered by the QuestBridge award: 

 

  • Amherst College
  • Bowdoin College
  • Brown University
  • Columbia University
  • Dartmouth College
  • MIT
  • Tufts University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Southern California
  • Yale University

 

To learn more about Questbridge, who qualifies, and which schools are partners, see our post: What is Questbridge, and Who is Eligible?

 

4. Visit the Campus

 

Taking a campus tour doesn’t guarantee you a free college application. However, some schools do offer fee waivers to students who have visited the campus in the past year. If the college you want to attend is within a few hours’ drive, it may be possible to visit on a weekend or after school.

 

For schools that are farther away, consider visiting the campus through a diversity fly-in program. Available to students who might be unable to tour campus due to financial constraints, these programs include transportation, room, and board, as well as other expenses. In many cases, the school will also waive the application fee for students who visit through these programs.

 

5. Apply Where Your Parents Did

 

Do you dream of attending the same school that your mother or father did? One of the benefits of being a legacy applicant is that you might qualify for an application waiver. Typically, these fee waivers are available to the children and siblings of previous graduates, though some schools offer free college applications to grandchildren and other relatives, too. Schools with alumni fee waivers include Gonzaga University, the University of Kansas, and the University of Colorado Boulder.

 

At CollegeVine, we’re passionate about making college guidance accessible to all. That’s why we took the guidance that’s helped 100,000 students and made it free. On our college applications platform, you can use our chancing engine, build a best-fit school list, and learn how to improve your profile—all for free. Sign up for your CollegeVine account today to get a boost on your college journey.

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April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.