Application Fees Mean Revenue for Many Colleges Some Students Apply to as Many as 10 Universities

By Gutierrez, Matthew | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), July 24, 2016 | Go to article overview

Application Fees Mean Revenue for Many Colleges Some Students Apply to as Many as 10 Universities


Gutierrez, Matthew, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


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.

In August, many students begin using the Common Application - an undergraduate admissions application that lets them apply to any of its 625 members.

For some colleges, application fees have become a steadily growing stream of additional revenue.

Take 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.)

It's not alone. UCLA receives more applications than any college in the U.S., more than 90,000 undergraduate applications flood the system. But 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.

The 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 Statistics.

And, 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.

Some 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.

Families, 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.

"Schools 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.

Bethel Park 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.

Gillian Kasper, a Hampton 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.

Both students worked with Bridget Hotrum, president and founder of the college applications consultancy College Bound Admissions Academy in Peters.

One student with whom Ms. Hotrum has worked applied to 22 colleges. Last year, another who worked with Mr. Hand 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.

If 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,' " Mr. 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."

Strained support systems

More applicants does not mean schools are hiring more financial aid and admissions employees, Mr. 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 calls.

"Support systems are very strained," he said. …

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