Should You Apply To A College That Has Waived Its Fee?

Pile of Applications“Hey, it’s a free application so I may as well go ahead and apply!” 

Not so fast!

College policies with regard to application fees are just one of the many complexities that families encounter as they navigate the maze of the college admission process. The cost of applying to colleges can mount quickly: in 2014 the average application cost was $41, while some colleges charge nearly $100. A student applying to 7 colleges could easily spend between $400 and $500 just to submit the applications.  And, for those applying to 12 or more colleges, you may be looking at close to $1,000.  

Some colleges waive fees for certain students. One of my students recently received a waiver from Hofstra University, saving him the $60 application fee. He’s feeling special right now – Hofstra wants him! Why did he get the waiver? He visited Hofstra in the spring, he’s coming from a geographic area the university would like to develop, and he meets general academic criteria for admission (which he disclosed during his visit).  This recruitment strategy is not unique to Hofstra; many colleges will waive the application fee for students who visit campus. 

I read a blog recently listing the top 25 colleges with no application fee. This is a list of prominent, highly selective schools, most of which are small liberal arts colleges, and all of which are private. For the serious applicant, the student who has undertaken a thoughtful college search and has a sincere interest in one or more of these colleges, being able to apply without paying a fee is a nice plus.   

But I caution students against throwing their hat into an applicant pool at one of these colleges “just for the heck of it” because the application is free. College admission folks have become quite good at sniffing out those who are less than serious applicants. Have you visited the college’s website to explore its offerings? Have you met with an admissions representative at a college fair or high school visit? Have you requested information or communicated with college admissions? Are you following the college on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? Have you ever visited campus? Unless you can answer “yes” to some of these questions, you will likely be viewed as a “stealth” applicant – one who comes out of nowhere. “Stealth” applicants are unlikely to enroll if offered admission; and colleges know it. 

So I caution you against including a college you know little about just because the application is free.  You still have to do the work to apply and chances are good that you’ll be fueling the college’s selectivity rate. Unless you show some demonstrated interest, many colleges will be reluctant to offer you admission no matter how strong your application.  


by Hannah Serota, a College Counselor at McLean School in Potomac, MD since 2000. She also works as an Independent Educational Consultant, based in Loudoun County, VA. Hannah’s career in college admission began at Oberlin College in Ohio,where she worked as Assistant, then Associate Director of Admissions. Hannah holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Oberlin College and M.Ed in Counseling and Development from George Mason University. She also holds professional membership in IECA, HECA, and NACAC. Over the years she has counseled hundreds of students and families, including many with learning disabilities and ADHD, through the college admission process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.