THE SANTA CLARA
January 16, 2014
Imagine paying someone else to judge you. You hand over your cold, hard cash so a stranger can take a glance at your accomplishments and decide whether or not you are good enough to meet arbitrary standards.
Sound strange? It shouldn’t, because that’s the college application process.
In an age where student loans account for the largest proportion of debt in the United States, colleges and universities pour salt in the wound by charging a fee for every application they receive. This is simply outrageous, and a practice that needs to end.
Having application fees hurts prospective students from fulfilling their dreams of higher education. U.S. News and World Report found the average application fee for colleges to be $38.39 in spring 2013, an increase of 6.7 percent in the last six years. Someone applying to five colleges this year— the low end of what CollegeBoard recommends — paid almost $200. These payments occur in the span of just the few months when college applications are due. Thus, the costs come to applicants at a rate of $50 a month.
Not everyone can afford to spare that money from their monthly budget. Not without cutting out household necessities like food and medicine. Ironically, the ones who need college the most are the ones who struggle to afford even being considered.
Most institutions have a waiver program that reduces or eliminates the application fee in cases of hardship. So if colleges are willing to incur a percentage of application costs already, why not be bold enough to go all the way for everyone?
On the face of it, application fees seem like good capitalism. Time and energy are expended by each school in receiving, filing, reviewing and responding to every application sent in. This incurs costs that need to be covered somehow.
But why pass the financial burden to the prospective students? College Board found that tuition was, on average, responsible for more than half of a private college’s net revenue. Tuition to such schools has also increased five percent year-to-year during the past decade. Why not simply tack on the application costs to the tuition?
According to U.S. News and World Report, the most applications sent to any university went to University of California, Los Angeles, with 61,564 in 2011. The lowest acceptance rate was Harvard University, at 6.1 percent. The highest fee for an undergraduate application, submitted online, was for Stanford University at $90.
With these worst-case scenario numbers, the 3,755 students accepted to UCLA would have to cover the $5.5 million of application costs of all 61,564 applicants. That sounds like a lot, but would work out to just under $1,500 per accepted student. That is a tuition increase of less than $370 per year, per student.
And that’s assuming colleges are making no profit on application fees.
There are other factors that come into play, of course, such as retention and enrollment rates. The fact of the matter is, however, that universities are not economically obligated to charge for applications, not when the cost can easily be shifted elsewhere.
It might seem unfair that the accepted students have to pay for the applications of those who are denied. That’s a sound point, and any university should consider budgeting the costs from private gifts or other revenue sources before raising tuition. But when the costs are so easily mitigated, it makes a good case that application fees are altogether unnecessary.
No more excuses. A college education is already a prohibitively expensive burden for most students. The fact that we have to pay for merely a chance at higher education is ludicrous. Hundreds of institutions no longer require application fees, including Tulane University and Reed College. They have managed to afford doing so just fine.
It’s time for the rest of academia to take the plunge.
Jonathan Tomczak is a senior political science and history double major and editor of the Opinion section.