I can't afford the fees to apply to a bunch of colleges, but I really want to attend a competitive school. What are my chances of getting into a competitive college if I can only send out about 3 applications?

I have strong grades and standardized test scores. Should I just apply to three competitive schools, or should I still send one application to my state university and hope to transfer later?


Barbara Bellesi, Writer, Editor, and Educator

User avatar for Barbara Bellesi

Hi there. I'm not sure if you are aware, but there are resources out there that can help students afford the fees associated with college admission applications. Here is one link you should take a look at: http://www.nacacnet.org/studentinfo/feewaiver/pages/default.aspx There may be other opportunities to have application fees waived. Check in with the individual schools to see if you qualify for fee waiver.

That said, it might feel as though your chances are greater if you apply to more schools. However, what you should really focus on is matching your academic record and accomplishments with a college or university that will prepare you for the next stage of your life. Think quality, not quantity when it comes to applying to colleges.

Good luck!

Nedda Gilbert, MSW, Educational Consultant, and Author

User avatar for Nedda Gilbert

As many other experts indicated, you can apply for a fee waiver. This should allow you to apply to more schools, or at least to an amount that makes sense. Regardless of how many schools you apply to, there should be a solid application strategy in place. Are these three schools long shots? If so, try to expand your list so you have more options. It's a good idea to have a college list that includes reach schools, mid-reach schools, and safeties. With just three, its tough to do this.

One way to go is to apply Early Decision (ED). That requires one application, and is essentially a love letter to the school - I'll have you, if you'll have me. Because an ED decision is binding, students need to be prepared to make the commitment to this one school. If you are accepted, you'll have to go. For those colleges that have ED, the deadline is typically November 1st. Some have a second round called ED II in December of January. If one of your three schools offers this as an option, it's a great way to be one and done, as they say. ED decisions are faster; typically a November 1st deadline will yield an answer by mid-December. If you don't win admission through ED, you can apply regular decision to your remaining schools (or possibly ED II if it's offered) and several others. It also gives you time to meet with a guidance counselor and find a means of paying for, or getting those other application fees waived.

Best of luck!

Anonymous, Biomedical Engineer

Your chances of admission into a school do not depend on the number of schools that you apply to. Your chances of getting into a competitive school are completely independent on how many other schools you apply to. Therefore, it is advantageous to apply to as many schools as possible.

Applying to many schools, of course, costs lots of money. And I understand that you can't apply to that many schools for financial reasons. Generally, you want to apply for "reach schools", schools that you think think may be just out of you reach, schools that you believe will likely accept you, and finally "fallback schools", schools you are very confident will accept you. However, with an application limit of 3 schools, I would apply to 2 schools that I believe have a good chance of accepting me and then 1 fallback school. That way, you have two good chances of getting into a "middle ground" school, a school that is not as difficult to get into as a reach school, but better than a fallback school, and then a fallback school if you don't get accepted (hopefully not) into either of the two schools.

Since college plays a huge part of your life, I would recommend forking out some extra money and applying to a couple more schools, maybe applying to a couple more schools you have a good chance of getting into. But if your limit is 3, I would apply to 2 "middle ground" schools and 1 fallback school. Best of luck with your applications!

Kendra Whitmire, Writer and Tutor

User avatar for Kendra Whitmire

Most colleges have some sort of program in place for waiving the application fees for students who qualify. You would need to check with the individual programs or some of the sites listed in the other answers.

As Barbara stated, applying to more schools does not increase your chances for actually getting into a school. It is best to search for schools that offer the programs you want to study and focus on applying to those schools. Sometimes, it is not the schools that seem like the most competitive that provide the best education in a particular field. That is why many college rankings do so by department or major. Many state schools also offer a highly competitive education that rival many of the ivy leagues and other schools associated with the best education, so you may not have to feel as though you are compromising by choosing your state university.

That being said, the application process does not need to be an either/or situation. You could apply to your top 2 choices for what you feel are the most competitive schools in your field and then apply to your state university as a "safety school" and still fall within the three applications you stated you could afford, if you are unable to qualify for the fee waiver programs.

Colleen Clemens, College Professor, Writer, Editor, Tutor & Parent

User avatar for Colleen Clemens

Many, many schools offer a fee waiver if you attend an on campus tour (which is free). Be sure to ask about fee waivers after any visits. Now, if the schools you want to apply to are all far away, this advice won't help you. Many schools are eager to increase the socioeconomic diversity on their campuses, so it wouldn't hurt to call the admissions offices and ask if they have such a program. Did you request a fee waiver for the SAT? If so, then you get an automatic four applications for free. Schools DO NOT want you to not apply, so ask each school and ask your guidance counselor for help. I wish you well!

Dr. Aaron Smith, Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Currently Program Director at Aviation Academy, Co-Author of Awakening Your STEM School

User avatar for Dr. Aaron Smith

In addition to what was mentioned above, I also highly recommend that you set up an appointment with your school guidance counselor. There he/she can give you the latest information as to fee reductions and some schools even have an open signing night where many colleges would be at a school and accept you on the spot.

When recruiters come to your school, it would behoove you to talk with them with your SAT, transcripts and resume in hand. Explain to them your situation and they may be able to help expedite the process and waive some fees for you.

Good luck.

Chelsea L. Dixon, M.S., M.A.T, Author. Speaker. CEO.

User avatar for Chelsea L. Dixon, M.S., M.A.T

Have you thought about applying to Historically Black Colleges and Universities? If so, there is an application process called The Common Black College Application which permits you to apply to numerous HBCUs for $35. Not all HBCUs are members of the CBCA, but for less than the general cost of one application, you could apply to over 40 member colleges and universities. For more information, visit www.commonblackcollegeapp.com.

M. Erez Kats, Seattle Language Arts Teacher

User avatar for M. Erez Kats

I agree that you should look into application fee waivers and any other types of scholarships (there are many for all different types of applications) in order to help you afford to apply to as many schools as you'd like to. I also agree with the notion of applying to 2 middle ground schools, and one as a fallback. As a matter of fact, I would say this, why not shoot for the stars and make 2 of the schools (if not 3) your top 3 schools or "high ground schools"? Chances are, even if you apply to 5 or 6 schools as I did, you will most likely narrow your choices down to the top 2 or 3 anyway. There will almost inevitably be a couple schools that you don't like anyway after visiting or learning more about it. But if you shoot for your top schools, as long as they are "within reach" (as reach schools), then you might have your pick of your favorites, which is a best case scenario. That said, having a fallback or safety school is a good idea in case you just can't get in, but for the most part, colleges and universities want students that really want to be at their school. If you are very passionate and enthusiastic about 1 or 2 schools, and you have the grades to qualify to be admitted, I think you stand a much better chance of getting in than if you apply to 5 schools you don't really care about. Hope that helps and good luck!

Brittany Maschal, College Admissions Expert, Founder of B. Maschal Educational Consulting and College UnDocumented

User avatar for Brittany Maschal

If you are applying to schools that use the Common Application you can check out the information here about applying for a fee waiver: https://appsupport.commonapp.org/link/portal/33011/33013/Article/758/Common-App-fee-waiver

Also information here from the College Board: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/get-in/applying-101/college-application-fee-waivers

You can also talk to your high school guidance counselor about contacting other colleges to request a fee waiver on your behalf. NACAC has a form here:


Your Answer