Blog: Latino Ed Beat

College Application Costs Narrow Low-Income Students’ Options

Just a few dollars can impact the college application decisions of high school seniors, according to a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research reported on by the web site Inside Higher Ed.


The study addresses how the cost of submitting a college application can discourage students from applying to a greater number of colleges. Recent studies on the phenomenon of “undermatching” have found that high-achieving minority students from low-income backgrounds often don’t apply to the elite schools they are qualified to attend.

According to the article, Harvard professor Amanda Pallais found that after the ACT began allowing students to send their ACT scores to four colleges for free (rather than three, as in previous years) in 1997 students began applying to the maximum number of colleges allowed. Prior to the switch, it cost only $6 to add an additional college. Yet, very few students chose to add extra schools.

Inside Higher Ed reported that before the change only five percent of test takers sent their scores to four colleges, and after the change 75 percent of the ACT takers sent their scores to four colleges.

In a nod to the impact of application costs, the College Board this week announced that it would provide application fee waivers to six colleges to students in the bottom quarter of income distribution who score in the top 15 percent of SAT test-takers.

Inside Higher Ed notes that some experts argue that eliminating application fees altogether could address the problem. The challenge remains that once such low-income students are accepted, can they afford to even attend an elite college? Or, do they feel comfortable enough to move away from family?

Higher education data shows that the lowest income students are still sparse on the nation’s most elite campuses. As a reporter, you can obtain information on how many students enrolled on a college campus receive Pell Grants, which are reserved for students with the highest financial need, on the National Center for Education Statistics IPEDS web site (note: during the government shutdown the site is temporarily unavailable).

Related Links:

“At Elite Colleges, No Room at the Dance for Low-Income Students,” The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“$6 Can Make a Difference,” Inside Higher Ed.
“A Nudge to Poorer Students to Aim High on Colleges,” The New York Times.
– “Small Differences That Matter: Mistakes in Applying to College,” The National Bureau of Economic Research.
“Efforts to Recruit Poor Students Lag at Some Elite Colleges,” The New York Times.