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Why do I have to pay application fees?

"After long research, Edu, short for Eduardo, finally made up his mind and applied to a couple of universities. What stroke him was the very different approach to the fees he had to pay and at what stage of the process:

  • University A didn't charge him anything. The application was short with basic details and the outcome he received in a couple of days after a 15 min call from somebody from the university.
  • University B had an application fee when he submitted his application. The process was very structured with indicated timelines and they met all of them to the date.
  • University C didn't charge him anything either, but only at the beginning of the process. When he got a confirmation to progress in the process, they asked him for payment to proceed. Then he learned of another fee to issue his enrolment confirmation for the embassy.
Though he hasn't made up his mind yet, why do universities charge so many fees given the high tuition they are charging?"

Most universities are charging application fees. It is in a nutshell a way to deter random applications from candidates who "try their luck". It helps to generate a minor income to cover the cost of managing the applications through the process. When charging application fees, universities should be guided by the following principles:


You don't want to discourage candidates to apply when they tick all your boxes. The application fee ranges between 100-200 USD/EUR for top-tier universities and between 30-80 USD/EUR for many other universities. There can be differences in fees for local or international students. There is no correlation between the application fees and the overall tuition. Check with your direct competitors or those you wish to see as competitors as benchmarks.


Keep the payment process simple. Request only one payment along the process. Credit Cards are the most common way of payment. However, take note that in some countries credit cards might not be so easily available. Find other cost-efficient alternatives. Bank transfers should be the last resort as the administration of these transactions are complex and fees for both sides are high.


Be transparent with your fee structure and communicate it clearly. If there are different charges, explain them in detail. You don't want to confuse the candidate at this stage of the process. S/He is in buying mode but hasn't bought yet, so you want to avoid surprises along the way.

Some institutions are working with Fee Waivers for certain events or occasions. It definitely can be attractive if you wish to drive applications from candidates with defined profiles. You might wish to use this tool for only a limited period of time as otherwise, you will create the impression that you are in desperate need of applications.

If your margins and your processes allow, keep your fees in line with your competitors. It's a minor amount in comparison with the overall investment. However, it can become a deal-breaker when your university stands out for the wrong reasons.

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About this blog: EDU, short for Eduardo, is a great guy! He is your lead, your candidate, your student, and your alumni. He helps you see things from his perspective. You will understand why things matter to him. On his blog, he will pose questions to which you hopefully have answers - or we help you to find them! So, go ahead a explore more stories at