33 Top Colleges in the U.S. Without Application Fees

Why pay to apply? There are plenty of great colleges that have no application fee, like Colby College.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

November 19, 2021

Avoid paying a college application fee by applying to these top colleges.
33 Top Colleges in the U.S. Without Application Fees
Nowadays, it’s not only expensive to go to college; it’s also expensive to apply. College applications have increased in cost – some of them are upwards of $80! And, for students with limited funds, it can be financially cumbersome to apply to several schools. After all, $80 spent on an application is $80 that could go towards paying for tuition. With that, students should consider applying to colleges that do not have application fees. The good news is that there are plenty of institutions that recognize that the application fee costs are expensive and no longer charge fees for their applications. Many colleges may even have a declared application fee, but will waive the charge for students who apply online, usually utilizing the Common Application.
Just an aside, the Common Application is available at over 900 institutions. It allows students applying to college to fill out and submit one application for multiple schools. Students can even apply for a Common Application fee waiver. According to the Common Application website, "If you feel that your financial circumstances might qualify you for an application fee waiver, you can request a fee waiver in the Common Application Fee Waiver section in the Profile section." Niche publishes a best colleges list, which includes the top schools without application fees. According to Niche, “The 2022 Best Colleges with No Application Fee ranking filters the 2022 Best Colleges ranking to only include colleges with free applications. Note that additional colleges waive application fees for low-income, minority, veteran, and other student types so be sure to check each school's website.”
You can learn more about the methodology of Niche’s best colleges lists here. Here are 33 of Niche’s top schools with no application fees:
  1. United States Military Academy – West Point, New York
  2. Wellesley College – Wellesley, Massachusetts
  3. Carleton College – Northfield, Minnesota
  4. Colby College – Waterville, Maine
  5. Grinnell College – Grinnell, Iowa
  6. Macalester College – Saint Paul, Minnesota
  7. Tulane University – New Orleans, Louisiana
  8. Smith College – Northampton, Massachusetts
  9. Kenyon College – Gambier, Ohio
  10. Mount Holyoke College – South Hadley, Massachusetts
  11. Trinity University – San Antonia, Texas
  12. Worcester Polytechnic University – Worcester, Massachusetts
  13. Reed College – Portland, Oregon
  14. Colorado College – Colorado Springs, Colorado
  15. St. Olaf College – Northfield, Minnesota
  16. Michigan Technological University – Houghton, Michigan
  17. Saint Louis University – St. Louis, Missouri
  18. Denison University – Granville, Ohio
  19. Wabash College – Crawfordsville, Indiana
  20. Rhodes College – Memphis, Tennessee
  21. Baylor University – Waco, Texas
  22. Hendrix College – Conway, Arkansas
  23. University of Dayton – Dayton, Ohio
  24. Lewis & Clark College – Portland, Oregon
  25. University of St. Thomas, Minnesota – Saint Paul, Minnesota
  26. LeTourneau University – Longview, Texas
  27. Drake University – Des Moines, Iowa
  28. Milwaukee School of Engineering – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  29. Gustavus Adolphus College – Saint Peter, Minnesota
  30. College of Wooster – Wooster, Ohio
  31. Augustana University – Sioux Falls, South Dakota
  32. Oberlin College – Oberlin, Ohio
  33. Lawrence University – Appleton, Wisconsin

Applying to Colleges

College application season can feel long and strenuous. Between college visits, essays and admission interviews, there is so much to be done. However, there are ways to make the process easier. First, start college visits early. Don’t wait until senior year to begin visiting schools. You can start as early as a freshman in high school; however, it will help your decision-making process more to begin visiting colleges during junior year of high school. You will have a better idea of what you’re looking for and which of your passions from high school you’ll be able to pursue. Keep a journal in order to record each of your college visits. Write down questions which you have for the tour guide or admission officer. Get your answers while you’re on campus. After you leave, write down the things you loved about the school – and things you didn't like. Having these notes to reference back to when it’s application time will be helpful. During the spring semester of junior year, take the SAT or ACT if you haven’t yet done so. If you’re not happy with your results, this will give you plenty of time to retake the test over the summer or during fall semester of senior year. Over the summer, make a list of the schools you plan to apply to, and start doing your research. Check whether or not you must pay an application fee as well as if the schools you plan to apply to are covered under the Common Application. Check out college application deadlines and figure out if you plan to apply Early Decision to any of the schools on your list (if you apply early decision, it means that you are committed to attending that particular school as soon as your application is accepted for admission). This is also a good time to see what you need for each application. Some schools require essays and letters of recommendation in addition to test scores and transcripts. If you’re filling out the Common Application, some schools may require a supplemental application that includes short essays so that the school can get to know you better. Finally, consider doing an admissions interview at the colleges you’re especially interested in attending. An admissions interview will enable the officer reviewing your application to put a face with the name he or she sees. It will also help you to get a more personal, in-depth look into the university and how you would fit there. Applying to colleges doesn’t have to be all that stressful. With a little preparation and planning, you can stay on top of college visits, application components and deadlines. You’ll also be up to speed on which schools require an application fee and which do not. What’s more important, though, is that being organized in your college search will actually lead you to making the decision that is best for you. With hundreds of colleges to choose from, making that final decision can be easy, stress-free and right on the money.

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