US Colleges Making the Most Money From Application Fees

Student apply to college
Student apply to college

Applications from high school students wanting to begin their college educations next fall have already begun landing on admissions counselors’ desks and will continue in a rising tide through the end of January, with decisions mailed out around April 1. More than a third of would-be college freshman apply to seven or more colleges, and more than 80% apply to at least three.

Each of those applications includes a fee that can run from $10 to as much as $150, with an average of around $50. The fees serve two purposes, according to Mike Brown of LendEDU, a consumer-oriented website with information about financial products, including student loans.

First, application fees are revenue for the colleges, not profit. Every application is reviewed by at least one, and often more, professional admission counselor and the cost of those professional reviews is passed on to applicants and, more likely, their parents. According to the most recent report from the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, the mean number of applications read by a college admissions officer is 854, with a mean at public colleges of 1,472 and 494 at private colleges.

In addition to offsetting costs, application fees function to self-limit college-bound students from applying to hundreds of colleges. This may tilt the playing field toward students who can afford to pay more application fees, but many colleges will waive application fees for less financially able applicants.

LendEDU’s Brown reviewed application data from the National Center for Educational Statistics to come up with three different lists of 500 colleges: those that make the most money off total applications; those that make the most money of declined applications; and those with the highest yield (ratio of enrolled to admitted students).

Here are the 10 U.S. colleges making the most revenue from applications. LendEDU has included the total number of applicants, the fee (for students enrolled in the fall of 2016) and the total amount of revenue the fee generates.


10. University of Michigan- Ann Arbor

Total applicants: 55,504
Fee: $75
Total fee revenue: $4.2 million


9. New York University

Total applicants: 60,724
Fee: $85
Total fee revenue: $4.3 million


8. University of Southern California

Total applicants: 54,280
Fee: $85
Total fee revenue: $4.3 million


7. Boston University

Total applicants: 57,441
Fee: $80
Total fee revenue: $4.6 million


6. University of California—Davis

Total applicants: 68,553
Fee: $70
Total fee revenue: $4.8 million


5.University of California—Santa Barbara

Total applicants: 77,112
Fee: $70
Total fee revenue: $5.4 million


4. University of California—Irvine

Total applicants: 77,816
Fee: $105
Total fee revenue: $5.4 million


3. University of California—Berkeley

Total applicants: 82,561
Fee: $70
Total fee revenue: $5.8 million


2. University of California—San Diego

Total applicants: 84,208
Fee: $70
Total fee revenue: $5.9 million


1. University of California—Los Angeles

Total applicants: 97,112
Fee: $70
Total fee revenue: $6.8 million