Credit: Andrew Fischer

The millions of college applications that students fill out every year translate to a hefty source of revenue for colleges and universities. 

An application fee is a required part of a student’s application for many undergraduate schools, but the price varies across institutions.

For Penn’s undergraduate application process, applicants must pay $75, which is in the lower 50 percent among application fees for Ivy League universities. Taking application fee waivers into consideration, Penn made approximately $1,817,730 from application fees during this past 2017 admissions cycle.

Columbia University’s fee — $85 per student — is the highest in the Ivy League, while Princeton’s $65 rate is the lowest.

Despite the little variance in students' individual application payments among the Ivy League schools, the total revenue earned by these institutions from application fees varies by millions of dollars.

According to Penn Dean of Admissions Eric Furda, the $75 price tag is not the result of a precise calculation. Rather, it is based on a consideration of the range of the application free prices among Penn's peer institutions.

"We looked at what our ivy cohort looks like, our Ivy plus group," Furda said. "We make sure we are not on the high end of it — we are comfortably in the middle of the pack."

Despite allegations that the fees are arbitrary costs simply meant to generate revenue, universities substantiate the need for the large revenue by pointing to large admissions staff and expensive technologies that are needed to process the increasing number of college applicants.

Furda said that the revenue earned by application fees funds a portion of the total cost of the Office of Admissions' operations.

"Those dollars help pay for our outreach, our recruitment, our fly-in programs," Furda said. "So, it does help defray the actual cost of our operations."

Nonetheless, most colleges including Penn offer the option of an application fee waiver for applicants who are unable to pay for them.

The Common Application, the website which functions as the baseline application for over 700 colleges around the world, offers a simple application fee waiver for students who qualify for at least one of over eight indicators of financial need.

According to Furda, between 35 and 40 percent of applicants to Penn receive application fee waivers every year.

For many high school students, the price tags on college applications are significant factors into their decisions about where to apply.

"A first gen student here communicated this — that if you just add it up: to take your tests a couple of times, to apply to X number of schools, financial aid applications, the CSS Profile. You add all that up, and I’m doing this somewhat off the top of my head, it could add up to $2,500 to $4,000 to apply to college," Furda said.

When applying to colleges, College freshman Vraj Shroff was initially worried that he would not be able to apply to colleges simply because of their application fees. However, after speaking with his guidance counselor, he found out about the Common Application fee waiver request and soon applied to Penn through its early decision process.

“Applying to college is really expensive — sending AP scores, SAT scores, ACT scores,” Shroff, who is also a Social Media and Web staffer at The Daily Pennsylvanian, said. “I wouldn’t have been able to apply to Penn without the fee waiver.” 

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.