Fee-Free College Applications Gain Popularity

More colleges embrace the idea, but some worry about the lost revenue.

A leading trade publication, Inside Higher Ed, has an article out today pointing to more colleges eliminating application fees, something gradually emerging as an industry trend.  The article focusses on liberal arts schools, such as to St. Lawrence in New York, near the Canadian border, and Macalester in Minnesota.  Dickinson College (Pennsylvania) is waiving the fee for anyone filling out a simple pre-application form and SUNY-Geneseo is waiving it for students from its part of New York.  The article points to it as an evolving trend, with other colleges, like Trinity in Connecticut, Reed in Oregon and McDaniel in Maryland having eliminated them in recent years.

Colleges are so budget-strapped that the loss of revenue is cited repeatedly by college administrators but some other takeaways:

The colleges in question are smaller liberal arts colleges, a category which is struggling to fill its enrollment targets.  The move represents creeping price cutting from weaker economic players.  (Who has the highest application fee in the US?   That’s right, Stanford, with its 5% admissions rate.)

An application fee is a marker of interest.  If a student is willing to pony up even $50 for such a fee, it means that their interest in the school is at least somewhat real.  The schools dropping the application fee have eliminated this selection criteria.  Though they will receive more applications, they will have less information about student interest.  They no doubt have alternate strategies for measuring student interest, though, so keep that in mind.  College admissions consultants often have ways of gaming these measures of interest. 

All the private colleges mentioned above use the common app.  (Not SUNY Geneseo.) Applying to these schools is reasonably convenient and now it’s free.  It might be worth it just to apply to these schools and, if you are accepted, use the financial aid offer as a bargaining chip with schools where you have more interest. 

College application consultants – the good ones – will know which colleges are competing against each other for which type of students.  Crafting a college list is a key piece of professional expertise which they can help you with.  It’s simply not something students & parents can do well on their own.  That list directly leads to more and better offers from the colleges.  Colleges without application fees can be used to leverage your negotiating power at no cash cost (but with some additional effort).   

Read the article here.

St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY

The article is written by Scott Jaschik, one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed.  Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such asThe New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. 

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