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Staff editorial: Wash. U.’s small step toward economic equity

Last week, Washington University announced its plan to waive the $75 application fee for students with a total annual family income less than $75,000. Additionally, the University will allow all students to self-report standardized test scores when they initially apply.

Most college applicants take a standardized test—either the SAT or the ACT—at least once during their high school career, often in addition to AP or IB exams, and these costs can add up. When the time to apply to college rolls around, fees charged to send scores to universities are tacked on, increasing the cost even more.

This change, which falls in line with some of Washington University’s peer institutions, represents a step in the right direction in terms of attracting low-income students to the University. Lowering or eliminating barriers for talented applicants provides a hopeful glimpse into a more equitable future for the University.

Additionally, the University instituted a policy wherein when a student applies, there will be no system to check whether annual family income is actually below $75,000 per year. Instead, the University will employ an honor system, allowing applicants to self-select. Previously, applicants could request a fee waiver to eliminate the cost of applying—an extra step in the already arduous process. Studies have shown that students who repeatedly have to prove their low-income status through applications or forms grow discouraged from submitting future applications.

Application fees are often used as a form of “demonstrated interest” in a school. Students show they can pay $75 (or whatever the fee may be), just to tell a university they want to go there, and, somehow, this indicates the ability to pay the rest of the $65,000 tuition. The concept of completely eliminating this continual cycle of fees, however, presents an alluring possibility for the future of college applications.

Currently the price of SAT exams ranges from $45 to $57, a fee including the submission of scores to four colleges, with each additional score report costing $11.25. Similarly, the ACT ranges from $43 to $59, also including four score reports, and each additional report costs $13. If the average student applies to seven schools, this total can range anywhere from $78.75 to $98, which essentially is the same cost as an additional application fee. Through the self-reported score system—open to all students, regardless of family income—students can independently tell Washington University their scores, without having to send official score reports. Instead, a student’s scores will be verified upon their acceptance to the University. By instituting an honor system, the University demonstrates trust in its students, while also alleviating financial concerns.

Although still a work in progress, the University make changes to improve socioeconomic diversity represents a welcome step toward a more diverse student body in the future. However, other schools similar to Washington University, such as the University of Chicago, offer a more robust fee waiver process: Any student applying for financial aid does not have to pay an application fee. The Student Life editorial board thinks the University should give this idea serious consideration, depending on the success of the newly instituted program, as it could potentially attract even more students who would have previously been discouraged by the high cost.

Other barriers, like low technology literacy or decreased access to resources in high school, still present challenges—but easing this process, even a little, can go a long way. After the application period closes next January, administrators will check to see if people took advantage of the new system, and we hope the new policy will be clearly illustrated to potential applicants considering Wash. U.

Additionally, to further the process of increasing socioeconomic diversity on campus, widely broadcasting all financial aid opportunities could attract some students who previously discredited Wash. U. as an option.

The college application process is increasingly complicated and overwhelming, especially for those who already feel they’re discounted from certain opportunities at the outset. Easing the transition from high school to college student by reducing stress—especially financial stress—represents the goal all schools should hold dear: to support students, in whatever way they can.