5 Ways to Apply to College for Free

Save money on college applications when you apply to these schools with waived application fees.

By Ashley Henshaw | November 07, 2017

Bryn Mawr allows online applicants to apply for free.

While college application fees may not seem like an issue initially, you’ll be surprised at how quickly they add up. According to DIY College Rankings, applying to U.S. News and World Report’s top 10 national universities would cost $750 in fees. Fortunately, you don’t necessarily have to limit the number of schools you’re considering based on application costs. There are thousands of colleges in the U.S. to which you may be able to apply for free. Find out more about how to access these free college applications.

Do your research before sending out applications if you want to take advantage of these free application opportunities.

1. Go Online

Many colleges and universities prefer that students apply online. Online applications are streamlined for efficiency, giving administrators less paperwork to process. Thanks to public libraries and school computer labs, even students who don’t have computer access at home should be able to save on college application costs by applying online.

Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, is one example of a college that allows students to apply online for free. Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, often ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country, is another school offering a free online application. Visit DIY College Rankings to find out which colleges offer free online applications according to the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

2. Apply Early

Another way you may be able to apply to colleges for free is by sending in your application early. Earlier submissions give the admissions team more time to work out their offers for admission and financial aid. Therefore, some colleges will incentivize early application submissions by offering waived application fees during certain parts of the year. For example, Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, waives their $20 application fee for all applications received before November 15.

Be aware that, at some colleges, getting a free application for applying early may only be available through an early decision program. With this type of program, you agree to enroll at the university if you are admitted. You should only take advantage of this offer if that college is your first-choice school.

3. Visit Campus

Campus visits are an important part of the college search, but many students don’t realize that they may also be their ticket to a free application. At certain colleges, application fees are waived for students who have visited campus or who submit their application during a campus visit.

Virginia Private College Week is a prime example. During this summer event, students are encouraged to visit several of the 24 participating colleges and universities, including Roanoke College, Virginia Wesleyan College and Washington and Lee University. If students visit at least three campuses, they receive three application fee waivers that can be used to apply to any of the participating schools (it doesn’t have to be the ones they visited). While this is a unique example of a program for free applications, there are many colleges that offer waived application fees individually for students who visit their campus.

Some schools, like Stanford University, will issue application waivers on their websites.

4. Apply for Income-Based Waivers

If you or your family is having trouble affording college application fees, then don’t miss the opportunity to apply for a fee waiver. According to Yahoo! News, U.S. News and World Report found that 1,284 out of 1,549 colleges it surveyed offered waived fees for students who demonstrate financial need. There are several ways to go about obtaining these types of waivers:

  • Ask your high school counselor to submit a waiver request for you.
  • Apply for application fee waivers through the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
  • Apply for fee waivers from CollegeBoard to take the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. If you receive this waiver, you’re automatically eligible for the CollegeBoard application fee waiver, which can be submitted to up to four colleges of your choice.
  • Look for information on the college website or contact their admissions office to find out if they offer fee waivers for students with financial hardships. Stanford University, for example, has information about how to obtain an application fee waiver on its website.

5. Use Your Connections

One of the lesser-known routes for obtaining an application fee waiver is to use your connections with a college graduate. Certain colleges and universities allow alumni the opportunity to request an application fee waiver for a prospective student. DePaul University in Chicago, for example, lets each alum request one fee waiver per academic year. Make sure you take advantage of this opportunity if you know a graduate of a school you’d like to attend.

There are plenty of ways to apply to college for free. Do your research before sending out applications if you want to take advantage of these free application opportunities at the top colleges on your list.

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Apply for Free: College Application Fees and Fee Waivers

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