How Much Does It Cost To Apply to College?

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The cost of applying to college may not be as much as you think because there are multiple fee waivers and deferrals available to many students. However, fees and costs can still add up, on top of future college expenses. 

Consider the following expenses when thinking about schools, which could help you better map out your strategy, such as how many schools to apply to and when to start the process. Learn how to save money on college applications, and where to find more information.

Key Takeaways

  • Application fees generally range between $30 and $90 for each application, but vary depending on school.
  • If you’re a student from a low-income family, you may be able to have application fees waived.
  • Other costs of applying to college may include paying for required tests such as the SAT and ACT fees, in-person school visits or tours, and registration fees, but there are ways to cut these costs too. 

Application Fees

Each college or university you apply to generally charges an application fee. The Balance analyzed application fees at 14 public and private universities across the country, and the average fee was about $64, but ranged from $30 to $90.

In general, private institutions charge $75 or more. Stanford charges $90 for first-year applicants while Dartmouth charges $80 for first-time applicants and $90 for transfer students, for example. Public universities tend to charge less, but not always—the University of Washington charges $80 for freshman applications.

These application fees vary by institution and your enrollment status—for example, whether you’re applying as a first-time student or, for example, an international or transfer student. For grad students, fees may even depend on which school within the university you’re applying to—for example, business school versus law school. 

Typically, you can pay your fee by credit or debit card, electronic check, or by mailing in a check. Application fees are usually non-refundable.


More than 475 schools don’t charge an application fee.

How To Get an Application Fee Waiver

Waivers cut the costs of college applications by eliminating the application fee. You can get waivers in a few ways—they’re often based on economic need. 

Common App Fee Waiver

Common App, a nonprofit organization that simplifies the application process, offers application fee waivers based on a student’s household income. As with many other waivers, you could qualify for these if you are: 

  • Enrolled in a free or reduced-price lunch program at your high school
  • Receiving or eligible for an ACT or SAT fee waiver
  • Receiving public assistance or federally subsidized housing for your family

NACAC Fee Waiver

First-time students can apply for an application fee waiver through the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).  Transfer students eligible for a Pell Grant can qualify for a transfer fee waiver. Even homeschooled students and adults going back to school can apply for an application fee waiver. The catch with NACAC waivers is that all require the signature of someone who certifies your economic need.

College Board Application Fee Waiver

The SAT-administering College Board provides application fee waivers for students who qualify for an SAT fee waiver. You can get the waiver for as many school applications as you wish—as long as they’re one of the more than 2,000 schools accepting the waivers. But, remember, you must register for the SAT and get an SAT fee waiver to qualify. If you’d hoped to take the ACT or skip college entrance exams altogether, you won’t get the application fee waivers.


Find out if the school you’re applying to accepts waivers by reviewing the school’s profile via the College Board’s College search tool.

School and State-Based Application Waivers

Some application fee waivers are provided at the school or state level. For example, graduate schools may offer application fee waivers based on financial need. Other state university systems offer fee waivers. Once again, you might need to meet specific requirements.

For example, to qualify for a State University of New York (SUNY) fee waiver, you must be a New York resident or U.S. citizen, and meet income limits. Additionally, all students at more than 500 designated New York State public high schools can apply to up to seven SUNY schools for free via an automatic waiver.

Other Costs To Expect When Applying To Colleges

College application costs involve more than shelling out for an application. Tests, optional school visits, and required registration deposits all tend to cost money.

Fees for Standardized Tests

If you take national standardized tests such as the College Board’s SAT and ACT, you could pay fees. However, more than 1,800 accredited, four-year colleges and universities now make standardized testing optional or have test-free admissions policies.

If you do decide to take the SAT or ACT, here’s a quick fee comparison:

Test registration $60 $63 (basic) or $88 (full ACT with writing)
Changing the test center: $25 $42
Canceling registration  $25-$35 $42
Late registration $30  $36
Reports for colleges Four included if you order them within nine days of your test date; $12 for each additional  Four included; $16-$18 for additional 

SAT and ACT Fee Waivers

Both the SAT and ACT offer fee waivers. These waivers allow you to take two free SAT tests and four ACT tests. Additional benefits depend on the test and could include additional score reports for colleges, or allowing you to avoid late registration fees or cancellation fees. For the SAT, these waivers are available to low-income 11th- and 12th-grade U.S. students who qualify. However, fee waivers may not cover things like change fees or a request to rush your scores to a school.

College Visit Costs

If you decide to visit schools as you shop for college, consider how quickly costs will add up for:

  • Airfare
  • Hotel 
  • Meals and snacks
  • Car rental and gas
  • Transportation to and from the airport

To save money, consider visiting schools in one region all at once. Or, you can skip in-person visits altogether. Many schools offer virtual visits that include interactive campus maps, immersive virtual tours, or tours using YouTube. Live virtual information sessions are common, too. You can use these sessions to ask questions about academics, financial aid, and student life. You can also get a sense of student life on campus by reading the student newspaper or browsing hashtags on Instagram and Tiktok.

Registration or Enrollment Fees

When you decide on the college you want to attend, you’ll likely need to pay an enrollment deposit fee soon after acceptance. This fee reserves your spot for enrollment, and the cost varies by school: 

  • Cal State East Bay charges a $110 pre-enrollment fee due 30 days after your acceptance, or by May 1 (fall semester) or November 1 (spring semester).
  • The University of Texas at Austin’s $200 enrollment fee for admitted students goes toward your first semester’s tuition and fees.
  • The University of Northern Iowa’s $320 acceptance fee is divided between $250 toward new student programs and orientation, with the remaining $70 acting as an advance payment on your upcoming university bill.


A registration fee might not be refundable or may be only partially refundable.

Fee deferrals and exemptions may be available at your school, so call the admissions office to discuss options.

In addition, NACAC offers an enrollment deposit fee waiver if you’re an undergraduate or transfer student experiencing “significant hardship.” Like the application fee waiver, you’ll need to meet income requirements and get the form signed by, ideally, a high school counselor.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When should you start applying for college scholarships?

Start looking for scholarships in your junior year of college, and create a spreadsheet of deadlines, websites, and requirements. Work backward from the college scholarship deadlines listed to start collecting documentation, letters of recommendation, and anything else you might need to get a scholarship. You can apply for scholarships before being accepted into college.

How long does it take to get accepted into college after applying?

Traditionally, college application materials are due in January for the fall semester, and you’ll hear back by March or April. If you apply through early decision, you’ll submit your application by mid-November, then receive word in December. Dates and requirements differ between schools, so make sure you’re tracking deadlines in some way, such as a spreadsheet.

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  1. University of Washington. "Freshman Application Fee."

  2. Stanford University. "First-Year Applicants: Application Fee/Fee Waiver."

  3. Dartmouth University. "Application Fee."

  4. Common App. “Understanding Application Fees & Fee Waivers.” Page 1.

  5. National Association for College Admission Counseling. “Transfer Fee Waiver.”

  6. CollegeBoard. "College Application Fee Waiver FAQs."

  7. The State University of New York. “Application Fee Waivers.”

  8. The State University of New York. “2023 Fee Waiver Request Form.”

  9. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing. “Test Optional and Test Free Colleges.”

  10. ACT. “Fees.”

  11. CollegeBoard. “Test Fees.”

  12. CollegeBoard. “SAT Fee Waiver Benefits.”

  13. ACT. “ACT Fee Waiver Program.”

  14. CollegeBoard. “Fee Waiver Eligibility.”

  15. Cal State East Bay. “Pay Pre-Enrollment Fee.”

  16. The University of Texas at Austin. “Paying Your Enrollment Fee.”

  17. University of Northern Iowa. “Acceptance Fee Refund Policy.”

  18. National Association for College Admission Counseling. “Enrollment Deposit Fee Waiver.”

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