Why Do Colleges Charge Application Fees?

October 7, 2022
By AdmissionSight

Why Do Colleges Charge Application Fees?

When students think of applying to colleges and universities in the United States, one of the biggest considerations that students – and families of students who are applying to schools – need to make is how they are going to actually afford the price of tuition for an entire undergraduate education.

But tuition is far from the only expense that students preparing to apply to college need to make. Another very important thing to keep in mind is the cost that comes with applying to schools by way of application fees. But why do colleges have application fees?

At AdmissionSight, we make it our top priority to help students understand and prepare for the entire admissions process from start to finish. We believe that instilling this crucial information, and making sure that there are no big surprises along the way, help ensure a successful and stress-free experience! While preparing to pay for application fees may seem like a rather small and insignificant aspect of the application journey, just because it is small does not mean that it is not important.

Young woman interviewing a student.

The truth is that when it comes to the process of trying to get into some of the most prestigious and selective schools in the United States, there is no factor or consideration that is too small. At least, that is what professional admissions consultants believe. Over the last several years, working with admissions consultants has become quite popular for students all over the United States and the world. That is especially true for students who are interested in trying to get into some of the top schools in the world. While students can, of course, go through the entire process alone, there is very real evidence that having an admissions consultant who can guide a student through the journey can dramatically improve a student’s chances of success.

After all, consider the fact that approximately 3/4ths of the students that we have worked with through the years have gone on to get into either an Ivy League school or a top 10 college or university that isn’t in the Ivy League.

When you remember that many of these schools have overall acceptance rates either slightly above or below 5.0 percent, it starts to become abundantly clear just how big of a positive impact working with an admissions consultant can have for high school and transfer students.

So in order to help you prepare for the exciting and challenging journey ahead, we want to spend some time breaking down the most important questions regarding application fees like what’s the point of application fees? Or is there any way to get out of paying application fees?

So, if you are interested in learning the answers to those questions and more about the process of applying to schools and paying for your application fees, continue reading to learn everything you need to know about application fees.

Why do colleges have application fees?

Why do colleges have application fees? This simple question is the most reasonable place to start, so we thought we would get the simple answer to this question out of the way. For colleges and their admissions offices, the applying cycle in each school year is certainly the busiest and most chaotic time of the year.

The applications submitted to a college are not able to review themselves, after all, and even with advanced electronic verification systems that the vast majority of schools now use, the necessary review process of each and every application requires an admissions specialist.

Female student holding a pen while looking distracted.

Perhaps the most straightforward answer then is that colleges and universities utilize these application fees to cover the costs of the selection and admission process. After all, reviewing and analyzing these applications costs money and they need to pay highly trained admissions officers in order to look over each and every one. The cost of that is, partially, passed onto the applying students.

By charging a relatively small amount per application, schools can be certain that they can pay their admissions employees to do the necessary work looking over each application no matter how many applications come in. It’s important to keep in mind that in the last two years, many of the top schools in the world have seen their highest (and second highest) application pools in history.

Even the most prestigious and selective schools in the country are seeing tens of thousands of applications per year. Obviously, that means a lot of work for existing admissions officers and has likely led to some universities having to employ even more individuals to work in their office of admissions.

On top of that, it is also important to keep in mind that some of the top schools in the country use the application fee as a way to ensure that students are serious about attending the school. Without a fee, some students would simply end up submitting to hundreds of schools and just take the best option that is available to them. By charging application fees, it forces schools to refine their lists to the schools that they would be happy to attend depending on certain circumstances and outcomes of their application journey.

So now that you know the answer to the question, “Why do colleges have application fees?” let’s break down some more information regarding this important query.

Do all colleges and universities charge fees?

While charging application fees is most definitely the norm for schools in the United States, there are some schools that don’t charge application fees at all. Other schools credit the application fee towards a student’s tuition, while others schools offer refunds for the application fee for students who are not ultimately accepted.

Still, the vast majority of schools do charge some kind of application fee, and some of the most prestigious schools in the country (like Princeton or Stanford) charge fees that are quite high.

Young man looking at his laptop.

The kinds of schools that tend not to charge any kind of application fee include online schools, Christian schools, and some liberal arts schools. Schools that do not charge application fees are often demonstrating inclusiveness. They want to encourage everyone to apply. Thus, anyone can go through the admissions process. If this is essential to you, be sure to research which colleges have no fees to apply to. To get you started, here are some of the most popular or highest-rated schools in the United States that have no application fee:

  • Wellesley College
  • Tulane University
  • Colby College
  • Grinnell College
  • Carleton College
  • Macalester College
  • Smith College
  • Kenyon College
  • Trinity University
  • Colorado College
  • Reed College
  • Michigan Technological University
  • Wheaton College
  • Saint Louis University
  • University of Dayton
  • Creighton University

How much do application fees typically cost?

So, you now know the answer to the question, “What’s the point of application fees?” However, there are a lot more questions that you likely have about the process. Perhaps the most important one is how much an application fee typically costs.

Across the board, colleges and universities set their application fees based on how many applications they receive on average per year. Schools will also charge a higher amount based on how selective and competitive the admissions process is. For that reason, students need to be sure to make a comparison because the costs can add up if they are applying to a handful of colleges at any given time. It can be helpful if at least a few of them offer students a fee waiver.

When it comes to what you can expect to pay per school, the US News & World Report looked at a total of 889 schools and found that the average application fee is $45.00. The highest application in the 2021-22 application cycle was $100. The typical price at tier 1 schools or top 10 schools was $75. Stanford boasted an application fee of $90 while Duke University charged $85 per student.

From that information, we can confidently deduce that students can expect to pay somewhere between $45 and $100 per school. Considering the fact that most students likely pick between a number of dream schools, sure best and safety schools, chances are pretty good that you will pay a number of different application fees through the course of your application journey.

With that in mind, it is crucial for students to know that there are some ways for students to reduce, or completely remove, application fees connected to many schools in the country. These are often based on a number of different circumstances.

What is an application fee waiver?

Now that you know the answer to the question, “Why do colleges have application fees?” as well as the average price of application fees for undergraduate students, you are likely wondering, “Is there any way to get out of paying application fees?”

The simple answer to this question is yes, but whether you are eligible to apply for a fee waiver is going to depend on some unique circumstances.

The truth is that many schools offer fee waivers. Even Ivy League schools like Harvard University provide fee waivers. You can usually find more information on application fee waivers through a school’s financial aid department. Just in case it needs clarification, a fee waiver allows students to apply to a certain school while getting the entire fee waived, essentially making the application free.

Using a laptop to type in a table.

The first step you have to take when it comes to accessing a fee waiver is to find out whether or not you actually qualify. This is going to depend on the yearly income that your family earns, as fee waivers are meant to make the process of applying to schools easier for lower-income individuals. One nice handy thing to keep in mind for students who take the SAT is that if they get an SAT fee waiver, they will automatically qualify for a fee waiver from schools that offer them.

Though colleges do need the application fees to pay for their admissions offices to look through all of the applications in a given year, they also fully understand that the financial strain can be too much for certain students. However, application fees are not simply available to anyone who wants them, there are strict guidelines that students need to meet in order to be eligible.

For the vast majority of students, fee waivers will not be an option. For that reason, it is important that you make sure to get financially ready for the entire process. Whether you or your parents are planning on paying for your application fees, it is wise to set aside some money to make sure that you have what you need to pay for all of your fees. That way, you can make sure that you will not be limited to where, and to how many schools, you can apply to.

Other ways to avoid paying application fees

While application fee waivers are definitely the most common ways that students avoid paying fee waiters, there are some other ways that applying students can either remove or reduce fees that are connected to applying to schools. Here are the most common ways to keep in mind.

The reasons for why do colleges have application fees make a lot of sense, but that does not mean that those reasons have to apply for all students. There are other ways to get out of application fees despite qualifying for an application fee waiver.

Apply to a school via early admissions

One common way that students manage to avoid paying an application fee is by applying early to a school. Many schools love when students apply early because it gives the admissions office more time to process the application. On top of that, many schools offer binding or restrictive forms of early admissions, meaning that they serve as a sort of added boost of confidence from the student that if they end up getting into that school, they will apply.

As a result, schools often offer to waive fees for prospective students who do decide to apply early. However, there are some caveats to keep in mind. First off, this option is typically only available at smaller schools rather than highly prestigious schools like those in the Ivy League or other top 10 institutions.

Schedule a campus visit

This will likely end up costing more than the application fee itself, but you can kill two birds with one stone in a sense if you schedule a campus visit day. Schools will often waive application fees for students who do this. Make sure to arrange it with the school’s admissions office and make sure to confirm that they do in fact waive application fees for students who do take official visits.

If you need any guidance on how the best way to do this is, you can simply speak with your high school counselor, they should be able to help you set up an official college visit.

Apply online

This isn’t quite as common these days, but there are still some schools who offer free applications if students choose to apply online. The reason for this is because it makes the job a bit easier for schools compared to mail-in applications. You can easily find this out by looking to see if the school offers college application fee waivers for students who apply online.

Young woman working on something in her laptop.

Prove that it will cause financial hardship

This is perhaps the most common way that students get out of paying application fees, and that is because there are truly some students who will have to experience a financial strain if they are forced to pay the money connected to application fees. If you are struggling financially, don’t let it stop you from getting a college education. Many students are in the same boat. So contact the school’s financial aid office to see what programs are available. They will usually have you fill out a statement of financial need.

Let AdmissionSight help you navigate the application process

The truth is that every student’s application process is going to be very different depending on how many schools they plan on applying to, what kinds of schools they are going to target, and what their application profile looks like. Knowing why do colleges have application fees can help you feel better about the several hundred dollars you will likely be spending to apply to the schools you have targeted.

At AdmissionSight, we have worked with students from before they even entered high school and all the way to the final decision-making process of identifying the school that is the best option for them to attend. We have even worked with some students past that point, helping them transfer from a community college or a four-year program to another college or university as well as helping students prepare and apply for grad school.

Thanks to all of that experience, we know precisely what it takes for students to make sure that they get the most out of the application experience and identify the schools that are right for them.

No matter where you are currently in the process of preparing to apply to college if you are interested in learning more and finding out what admissions consultants can do to help improve your overall experience as well as your chances of getting in, contact us at AdmissionSight today to schedule a free consultation. We can’t wait to talk about your exciting future!

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