By Tia Schwab
ASSU President Jackson Beard ’17 has joined student representatives from 11 universities across the country who are calling upon their schools to automatically waive application fees for low-income and first-generation applicants.
The proposal, dubbed the “No Apologies Initiative,” was spearheaded by Brown University Student Body President Viet Nguyen. In addition to Beard, signees include representatives from all eight Ivy League schools, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.
“Peer institutions should be empowered to work together in the messaging around affordability,” Beard said. “With a united front, it’s more persuasive, it’s more passable, and as the student body president at Stanford, I was more than happy to join.”
In a letter attached to the proposal, Nguyen describes his experience applying to colleges as a low-income student.
“I knew that the college application process would be difficult,” Nguyen writes. “What I hadn’t anticipated was the financial burden that the process would put on my family.”
The price of applying to college can add up quickly. Submitting a College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile costs $25 for one school and $16 for each additional school, while sending SAT test scores costs $12 per school after the first four schools. In addition, application fees for individual schools can run up to $90.
Some fee waivers already exist for first-generation and low-income applicants: Students who qualify for an SAT fee waiver are automatically eligible for up to four college application waivers at over 2,000 participating institutions.
However, according to Nguyen, “it takes a certain level of self-advocacy and knowledge of the educational system to know to even ask for them, knowledge that is inherently less accessible for those who are the first in their families to go to college.” In addition, many students apply to more than four universities, particularly when hoping to attend elite schools.
By automatically waiving application fees, schools could increase accessibility for first-gen and low-income students. In his letter, Nguyen points to a 2014 White House study that found application fees to be a primary deterrent for low-income students applying to college.
“It’s important for schools on their own to take up the initiative on affordability issues like this… especially given all of these schools’ stated missions to have a diverse student body,” Beard said. “To fulfill that mission, it only makes sense that the applicant pool should actually be able to apply. In a way it’s a no-brainer.”
The high price of applying to college is one contributor to the severe lack of socioeconomic diversity in top-tier institutions. A recent study in The New York Times found that “at 38 colleges in America, including five in the Ivy League — Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, Penn and Brown — more students came from the top 1 percent of the income scale than from the entire bottom 60 percent.”
The No Apologies Initiative points to Trinity College and Bowdoin College as schools to emulate. In 2015, both schools automatically waived application fees for first-generation students, and Bowdoin waived application fees for all students applying for financial aid.
“If higher education is serious about our commitment to providing access to students regardless of their class background, we need to actively work to ensure that they are not deterred even before they apply,” Nguyen writes. “Eliminating these application fees will be an integral step towards tackling the socio-economic disparities within our student population.”
Contact Tia Schwab at kbschwab ‘at’ stanford.edu.