Application fees a deterrent to students, a windfall for colleges

Creates hurdles for many seeking college options

More stories from Malayna Chang


Malayna Chang

Stanford University

College application fees are often exorbitantly high, making it hard for lower-income students to apply to many schools. The COVID-19 pandemic further exposed the inequities of college application fees, as students who were economically hit by the virus were unable to afford higher college application prices. To open up more opportunities for all students to apply to multiple universities, college application fees should be eliminated or sharply reduced.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the average college application fee in 2020 was $44 across 936 surveyed schools. Each of the Universities of California has an application fee of $70; if a student were to apply to all nine schools within the University of California system, the total application cost would be $630. Many students apply to varying numbers of schools, with numbers ranging from five to 30. For students applying to more schools, these application fees add up, often ranging from numbers in the high hundreds to the low thousands. This makes it harder for students to apply to more than two or three schools.

“I believe college application fees should be completely removed. Though my family can support me financially, there are many others who are not as fortunate, and applying to many colleges adds up over time. These little fees are just paywalls that prevent poorer people from accessing higher education,” Miramonte senior Olivia Wang said.

According to a study by LendEDU, in the 2015-2016 admissions cycle, the University of California, Los Angeles made the highest amount of money from application fees from rejected applicants out of all colleges in the nation ($5,367,180). This is ridiculous, especially considering that the UC system is made up of public universities mostly funded by taxpayer dollars and the California state government. To minimize this exorbitant cost, at the very least, college application fees should be lowered to more reasonable prices to ensure that colleges do not limit low-income students from applying to their schools.

Multiple private liberal arts universities do not require application fees. Tulane University, Wellesley College, and Carleton College are just a few of the many private schools in the nation that have free applications. According to the Wellesley College website, “There’s no fee to apply to Wellesley. Fees are barriers, and we’re all about breaking down barriers.” Although these private universities are not funded by the state and must rely on student tuition and alumni donors, they are still more socially responsible and aware of the financial state that many students are in, and took steps to combat this inequity, whereas UCLA and other public universities have yet to progress in this way.

U.S. military schools, such as the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy, also do not charge an application fee. 

“I’m verbally committed to attending the Air Force Academy. There was no tuition fee to apply; in fact, all students who attend a service academy attend cost-free and are paid a monthly stipend,” Miramonte senior Mark Cheng said.

Other schools have begun to offer fee waivers for students in the 2021-2022 college application round due to the pandemic and the resulting economic effects it has had on family finances. Fordham University, a private research university in New York, has extended fee waivers to both high-achieving students and students from lower-income backgrounds. For most universities, students can request a fee waiver if they are from a low-income family, have some other extenuating circumstance, or if they demonstrate high academic achievement through their grade point average and standardized test scores; however, these waivers are not always granted in the end due to the volume of students applying for them.

“Students from lower-income families that don’t satisfy the fee waiver requirements are unfairly punished under our current system because they can’t apply to as many colleges and have fewer opportunities to receive a top education and move up the social ladder,” Miramonte senior Andrew Liu said. “That goes against the principles of education and social mobility that colleges are supposed to promote.”

Some argue that college application fees are necessary to pay admissions officers’ salaries and would decrease the quality of college admissions if removed. According to a study by LendEDU, “To ensure standards and reputations are upheld, colleges must ensure each application is thoroughly reviewed by a university employee. The colleges transfer this cost onto the prospective student through application fees.”

 If admissions officers don’t have the monetary incentive to read the thousands of applications they receive, many believe that the quality of their reviews of each application will decline and make it harder for students to get accepted to schools. However, the money that universities make from fees from rejected applicants is often ridiculously high with no benefit to the student. To minimize this exorbitant cost, at the very least, college application fees should be lowered to more reasonable prices to ensure that colleges do not limit low-income students from applying to their schools.

“Students, especially without the aid from their parents, do not have the means to apply to as many colleges that are in their college list,” Miramonte senior Ink Chavanapanit said. “For some, this limits students’ applications to ‘safety schools’ only.”

 Students who are unable to pay for more than just a few colleges are often forced to limit themselves to schools that they are almost guaranteed to get into; spending money on higher-ranked colleges is often too risky of a chance for a non-guaranteed acceptance. Since students will attend only one of the universities that they apply to, application fees are a waste of money and unfair to students who do not have the financial means to pay.

Students should not be discouraged from applying to a college simply because they cannot afford to pay the application fee.