— August officially kicks off college application
season. Rising high school seniors will begin inking
their essays and submitting their grades and test scores
to more than 4,000 U.S. colleges and universities.
the month, many students begin using the Common
Application — an undergraduate admissions application
that students may use to apply to any of its 625
some colleges, application fees have become a steadily
growing stream of additional revenue.
Penn State University, where the application fee is $50.
With 53,472 undergraduate applicants each year, the
school reels in hundreds of thousands of dollars in
application fee revenue. (For students who are
financially eligible, their fees are waived.)
not alone. At UCLA, which receives more applications
than any college in the U.S., more than 90,000
undergraduate applications flood the system — although
only about 20 percent get admitted and only one-third of
those actually enroll. So UCLA generates millions of
dollars from its applicants, many of whom pay the $70
fee but do not enroll.
business of college applications is complicated. Schools
argue that it takes a lot of time and technology to sort
through that avalanche of submissions. In fall 2015,
about 20 million students attended American colleges and
universities, an increase of 4.9 million since 2000,
according to the National Center for Education
consultants who advise applicants note, students and
families eager to have good choices rarely quibble over
an extra $10 here or $80 there to play the
will-they-take-me game. Many schools, like Penn State,
have systems to waive fees for those who can’t afford
them or perhaps for those who show up early, have good
grades and actually walk the dorms and the quad.
colleges have experimented with waiving fees entirely. A
few years ago, Drexel University did that. The school
saw an increase of 20,000 applications the next year.
Enrolling just three or four more students compensated
for the waived fees.
advisers say, might want to think twice before applying
to so many schools. But so far, the flood of
applications shows no sign of ebbing.
do bring in a tremendous amount of money with
application fees and the truth is they could charge
whatever they want with that fee," said Jason Hand,
a college planning consultant and former director of
admissions and enrollment at Rutgers University.
high school graduate Lexi Lutheran estimates she spent
about $1,000 in applying to 12 colleges. She spent $40
to apply to the University of Tampa, where she will
begin classes this fall.
Kasper, another a Pittsburgh-area high school graduate
and soon-to-be freshman at Washington & Jefferson
College, also applied to 12, and said most of her
friends applied to around 10.
students worked with Bridget Hotrum, president and
founder of the college applications consultancy College
Bound Admissions Academy, which is based outside
student with whom Hotrum has worked applied to 22
colleges. Last year, a girl with whom New Jersey-based
college planning consultant Hand worked applied to 21
colleges. Both consultants said most of their students
apply to between six and eight colleges, paying an
average of $50 per application.
the University of Pittsburgh — which charges $45 —
were to increase its fee to $55, "Nobody is going
to say, ‘You know what, I’m not going to apply,’"
Hand said. "And that $10 would equate to additional
revenue for the school. It’s amazing to me that
schools don’t even charge more."
applicants does not mean schools are hiring more
financial aid and admissions employees, Hand said. For a
college with 30,000 students, there may be around 15
employees in the financial aid or admissions office. If
every student calls just once, that’s 30,000 phone
systems are very strained," he said.
Chatham University and Duquesne University, all in the
Pittsburgh region, responded to questions on their
processes with emails that said their fees cover the
costs of reviewing applications and nothing more. Marc
Harding, Pitt’s chief enrollment officer, said that
school’s fees cover labor and technology costs
associated with processing applications.
got 30,626 applications last year, while Duquesne got
7,354 and Chatham 1,086.
years that Pitt and Duquesne receive an uptick in number
of applications, no additional staff is hired.
Duquesne "admissions counselors may work overtime
to ensure that the application packages are reviewed and
decisions rendered on a timely basis," said Kelley
Maloney, director of marketing and communications for
the university’s enrollment management group.
Washington & Jefferson, the staffers "just work
harder," said Robert Gould, the college’s vice
president for enrollment.
has hired additional admissions staff to accommodate
increased applicants, but most schools said their staffs
have not grown much over the years.
said not every application is read at large schools such
as Rutgers. Big institutions typically have automated
processes, where staffers can set a threshold for grades
and test scores. A student with high scores, for
example, is admitted by a computer.
State declined comment.
at schools that receive fewer applications read the ones
they get. At Pitt and Chatham University, every
application is read by at least three people. At
Duquesne and Washington & Jefferson, each is seen by
two sets of eyes.
can be triggered by non-academic or even financial
reasons. Villanova University won the 2016 NCAA men’s
basketball championship. The Wildcats won in early
April, a month before students are required to make
deposits on their finalized school.
got inundated with applications and now they’re
over-enrolled," Hand said. "Now if they want
to charge $100, I don’t think anybody would
families anticipate they will pay more than $100,000 for
college, so a few hundred dollars in application fees is
negligible, Hand said.
founded her company in 2002, and has worked with
families from the million-dollar tax return level to the
zero dollar tax return. Never has a student or family
squabbled about application fees.
one," she said.
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remain under financial pressure in several areas.
public universities eligible to receive state and
federal funding, states have reduced spending on public
higher education by 17 percent since 2008. Meanwhile,
tuition has risen 33 percent, according to the Center on
Budget and Policy Priorities.
factor: What has been dubbed as the college amenities
arms race — the rush to drive academic rankings by
attracting strong students with new academic buildings,
dormitories and athletic facilities. It’s left many
colleges saddled with debt.
application fees is a relatively easy way colleges can
compensate for some costs.
are two reasons that schools collect the bulk of their
application fee revenue from students who won’t even
spend a day on campus.
one, many students are applying to more colleges than
previous generations did. Fifteen years ago, 9 percent
of students applied to seven or more schools. Now that
number is over 30 percent. Overall, 80 percent of
students apply to four or more schools.
second stems from the rising popularity of the Common
Application, which streamlines the application process
for both students and colleges. With a few clicks,
students can apply to a dozen or more colleges, with
each school setting its own fee.
State University accepted the Common App for the first
time in 2013 and saw a 24 percent increase in the number
of applications it received.
more students applying, colleges can become more
selective, putting further pressure on applicants.
and third-party organizations are trying to help
students better handle the pressures.
are holding the line on their application fees. Duquesne’s
has remained at $50 for 15 years. Pitt’s has been $45
over a decade at Washington & Jefferson, the fee has
been waived if the application is submitted
electronically, Gould said. Last year, only five
students applied via mail to the private liberal arts
college 30 miles south of Pittsburgh.
of schools highlight that their admissions are
test-optional, a step meant to save students from the
emotional and financial stresses of standardized tests
such as the SAT and ACT.
the test requirement increases the average number of
applications a school receives, according to a 2014
University of Georgia study. But many test-optional
schools do not award students who don’t submit scores
with the same academic scholarships that test takers
schools waive fees for students who visit campus, earn
high grades and demonstrate interest in attending.
there is no data on how many fees are waived, Hotrum
said if a student is qualified for free or reduced
lunch, he or she is generally also eligible for waived
than 2,000 institutions have partnered with the College
Board to waive up to four application fees for
income-eligible students, said Angela Garcia, executive
director of college planning in the college and career
access division of the New York City-based nonprofit
organization that administers the SAT and other
suggests students redefine their college lists and build
the list carefully, weighing financial fit heavily. She
also suggests students communicate with colleges early.
Some waive fees for students who demonstrate interest
before their senior year.
about being realistic, Hand advises his students.
kids will list off Miami, Michigan and UVA," he
said. "I ask how they’re going to visit all
those. They go, ‘I’ve never thought about that.’"
the Hampton grad who applied to 12 colleges, said if she
were to do it all over again, she’d limit herself to
no more than six or seven.
is unnecessary," she said. "Don’t have a
whole list of schools. Don’t overwhelm yourself by
randomly choosing schools."