Application Fee Fears

The application process involves a multitude of fees, ranging from the fees imposed by colleges or those needed to send test scores, that can lead to students either spending far too much to apply to all the schools they want to or limiting the number of colleges they apply to out of fear of large costs.

Kelleigh Hogan, Editor-in-Chief

It’s my senior year, and I’m applying to college. Yes, that means there’s a lot on my mind, including living on my own and covering the insurmountable costs of college. However, I have a more immediate financial concern: college application fees.

Let’s say I am applying to a college. I have written the essays, asked for recommendation letters, filled out the forms, and taken the tests; all I have left is to pay the fees. First, there is the fee from the college, which typically ranges from $50 to $100 per test. Then, there are all the fees associated with sending test scores: $12 per ACT test, $12 per SAT score report (this does include all SAT scores and SAT subject tests), and $15 for all AP tests. After that, I have to send all the transcripts; for me, that is one from Horizon Honors ($3), one from South Mountain Community College ($5), one from Rio Salado College ($5), and one from Trine University ($5). To add onto all of these costs are portfolio fees and honors college applications. Ultimately, at the most basic level with a $50 college fee and just test scores and transcript fees, I am spending $107 per college.

The fees from colleges can be the most substantial costs in the whole application fee list. A common argument in support of these fees is that they serve to gauge a student’s interest in the school and prevent unqualified students from applying to certain colleges. The amount of money I pay is not a measure of my interest when it comes to applications; besides, an enrollment deposit serves as a measure of interest when students decide which school to go to. When I am applying to colleges, I don’t know which schools I want to go – that’s contingent on scholarships, acceptance, academic programs available, and other factors I don’t know upon application. If colleges are so concerned about receiving applications from unqualified students, then they can establish a minimum test score or GPA. Another argument for these fees – one that I am sympathetic to – is that these fees pay for the salaries of the admissions officers. However, Harvard provides a powerful example why this argument is especially weak. Harvard has a relatively expensive application fee of $85, and with 37,000 applications in 2015, application fees bring in a substantial amount of revenue: $2.5 million. However, compared to the total revenue of Harvard University ($32 billion), this $2.5 million is small change. Ultimately, I don’t think that colleges should get rid of their application fees but instead should lower them to avoid overcharging.

Where I think the true problem lies is in the fees to send test scores. Essentially, I am paying either the College Board or the American College Test to send an automated email. There is no person who is being paid to send these emails and no cost to send an email, as there used to be with mailing scores. The costs keep increasing with each test which is contrary to the advice we’ve been given throughout high school. We are told to take as many tests as possible – yet now, we face the consequences of having to pay excessive fees for taking so many tests. Though there are options available to send scores when you take the test, most students test during their junior year. Frankly, I hadn’t the slightest idea of what schools I was applying to in my junior year – it would be more convenient if these free score reports did not have a time limit to be redeemed. The score report fees are unnecessary costs created to further charge students who already pay enough to these organizations to simply take the tests.

Of course, to compound onto to all of that, students need to pay for transcripts, portfolio fees, and additional application fees for academic programs. It isn’t that any of these are specifically unnecessary or substantial, but they further exasperate the costs students must pay for.

Though there are fee waivers available, they are difficult for some people to obtain. I can relate to people who may have the money to spend on college application fees but don’t want to spend so much money on college applications, especially with the costs of college itself looming.

These prices limit the opportunities that students have to apply to colleges. Instead of being limited by the amount of effort I want to put into applications and the number of schools that I am interested in, I am limited by how much I would like to spend on applications. I am fortunate enough to be able to apply to multiple schools but I know other students who are not.