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Why do colleges have application fees?

December 20, 2018

College application fees can make a serious dent in your wallet and might feel unfair, but these relatively small fees are important steps in the admission process for colleges and universities.


Why do colleges have application fees?

There are two major reasons why most colleges have application fees. First, it helps them cover the cost of reviewing the applications. While some of these costs have lessened in recent years as electronic systems reduce the manual labor involved in tracking and reviewing applications, there is human interaction involved in every step of the process; staff who conduct information sessions, review applications, answer applicant questions, and more. Colleges are able to offset these costs by charging an application fee.


Colleges also sometimes charge fees to put up a soft financial barrier so that only those students apply who are serious about attending their school if they get accepted. Colleges care about their yield, or the number of students who are accepted and enroll.  If applications were free, it would be easier for students to apply to countless schools in hopes of increasing their options, odd and chances of getting into the best possible school. This would make it harder for the college to know how many students to accept in order to ensure they have the right number of students in an incoming class. Fees make it difficult for most students to game the system this way.


That said, application fees represent a very small portion of university revenue - those that make the most money could make several million dollars in application fees, compared to hundreds of millions in revenue from tuition.


How much am I expected to pay?

As with most college-related steps, the college application fee is going to vary from school to school. School ranking doesn’t seem to be a factor in fee costs. Take two New Jersey schools: Ivy League Princeton University’s application fee is $65, while large state university Rutgers charges $70. In most cases, application fees are not refundable regardless of whether you were accepted into the school or not.


To find your school’s application fee, visit their website or contact the admissions office.


Can I get a fee waiver?

If these application fees look particularly daunting and prohibitive to you and your family, see if you’re eligible for an application fee waiver.


You are guaranteed to get the college fee waiver if you are income eligible and did not have to pay for the SAT. As a senior, you will receive the waiver form with your SAT results. If you took the SAT at a junior, you will receive your waiver in the fall of your senior year. You also might have been flagged as eligible for free college applications as part of a district or state program and will automatically be sent a fee waiver form.


How do fee waivers work?

Not all colleges accept fee waivers, but over 2000 in the United States do.


Once you are approved for a fee waiver, you can use it to apply to as many colleges and universities as accept them. Forms must not be shared with any other future college student.


On the the Coalition, Common and Universal applications, you will be able to mark yourself as income-eligible for a no fee application. Your high school college counselor or another authority might be asked to verify your eligibility. To learn more about the process for each application, review College Board’s step-by-step instructions.


What if I don’t qualify for a fee waiver?

You might have to be selective about the colleges to which you apply. Don’t skip applying to your dream school just because it’s not free. Budget yourself, making sure you leaving enough money for the school you really want to attend and a few others.


You can also explore the schools with no application fee.


For more information about fee waivers, visit College Board’s FAQs on the subject.