The cost of just applying

I’ve made the hyperbolic joke in front of audiences that the result will be predictable if you apply to Harvard with a 1.0 GPA, an SAT score of -120, and a misdemeanor conviction for attempting to flood your school hallways with lizard spit. Harvard will deny you, but they will happily accept your $75 application fee to do so.

It’s not a knock against Harvard in particular. I’ve said it to make the point that most colleges aren’t in the business of dissuading students from applying. It’s one of the many challenges of composing a college list. At all but your most slam-dunks of collegiate sure things, most students apply (and pay the fee) without knowing with any certainty whether or not they will be accepted.

Unfortunately, the cost of doing so can add up. The average fee to submit a completed application to one college is around $50, with some schools charging two or even three times as much. It doesn’t take a math major to calculate just how fast those fees can add up depending on the number of schools.

But there’s good news on this front.

First, many colleges will waive the application fee for students who demonstrate financial need. The College Board maintains a list of schools here that will consider doing so.

The National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) offers information on fee waiver eligibility, requirements, and even a form to use when applying, all of which can be found here.

And here are’s tips to reduce the cost of applying, as well as a list of schools that do not charge any application fees.