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Eliminate application fee for low-income applicants

U.Va. should automatically waive fee for first-generation, low-income prospective students

Attending college is one of the best ways for an individual to rise out of poverty. In most cases, however, first-generation and low-income college students confront significant obstacles before even stepping foot on a campus. In spite of the generous financial aid available at schools like U.Va., the request for application-fee waivers alone can prove to be discouraging. Instead of requiring students to request waivers, the University should adopt an automatic application-fee-waiver policy for first-generation and low-income applicants.

The expenses associated with the application process are often underplayed. The cost of sending test scores, creating a CSS profile and paying the application fee represents money that could have otherwise gone towards food, rent or other vital expenses. According to a White House report, waiving these fees and reducing additional paperwork would encourage students to apply to more colleges. The report states that a 13 percent decrease in application costs induces students to apply to one additional college, which in turn increases the probability of enrolling by 18 percent.

A recent New York Times study found that, at elite colleges, “the share of students from the bottom 40 percent has remained mostly flat for a decade.” The study also shows low-income students’ ability to apply to these colleges has not changed much throughout the last decade. Moreover, a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found over half of the most talented potential applicants from low-income families never apply to a competitive college. Although the study does not specifically mention application fees, it signals there are more low-income students of high academic talent which the University is not able to consider.

On Feb. 15, student-body presidents and student groups from Ivy League and other elite institutions launched an initiative urging their respective administrations to consider a similar proposal. At the University, student leaders should play a similar role in improving socioeconomic diversity among applicants. Members of Student Council should push the initiative by presenting it to the Board of Visitors and making arrangements to meet with University officials to discuss its importance. This is a relevant issue not just to certain demographics on Grounds, but also to the vibrancy of our undergraduate community.

While the University has shown significant effort in providing increased financial relief to students in recent years, the financial barriers students face during the application process have yet to be addressed. Lowering these barriers will allow the University to significantly increase socioeconomic diversity within its student population.