Bowdoin has eliminated the application fee for first-generation applicants and students seeking financial aid, the Office of Admissions announced on Tuesday.
The $65 application fee is still required for all other applicants.

“It’s not a secret—there’s a lot of data that support that a lot of students find the application fees a barrier,” said Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Whitney Soule. “We hope that any student who might be interested knows that they can apply and knows that we could afford them if we were able to admit them.”

A 2014 White House report stated that application fee waivers are an important way to help break down major barriers to college opportunities facing low-income students in the country.
The College sees this fee elimination as a logical step forward for a school that is need-blind in admissions, meets the full financial need of each student for all four years and does not require student loans as part of financial aid packages.

Soule said that while admissions cannot predict the exact result of the policy change, the goal is to make the application process more accessible.

“We are assuming there are students who are choosing not to apply because they’ve hit a limit or perceived limit of what they can afford for application fees.”

For the Class of 2020, about a quarter of the 6,799 applicants to Bowdoin used a fee waiver provided by the College Board or another source.

According to Soule, Admissions expects that between one-half to two-thirds of the applicant pool will not pay an application fee under the new policy.

Moreover, Soule anticipates that revenue from application fees will be reduced by 50 percent, meaning the change is a considerable financial obligation for the College. For Class of 2020 applicants, the College made approximately $300,000. This money helps offset the cost of what Admissions says is a thorough, detailed and personal evaluation process.

Some small liberal arts colleges, such as Carleton College, Kenyon College, Reed College and Union College, do not charge any application fee. Among NESCAC members, Colby College is the only school that does not charge an application fee; all other colleges have an application fee in the range of $50 to $75.

“As an access effort, the only other school [besides Bowdoin] that I know that employs this kind of effort is the University of Chicago,” said Soule.

Soule emphasized that this policy change illustrates Bowdoin’s commitment to the common good and the principle of open access.

“It doesn’t impact the other things we can afford, so it’s not a choice of this or that,” she said. “It’s just an opportunity to add an element that has a cost to the College—but certainly the College feels it’s worth it.”

Soule hopes other institutions of higher education follow suit.

“What I really hope is that not only the Bowdoin community but also the landscape of higher-ed at large really recognizes that this is related and very much in keeping with the school’s attitude about access and using its resources to make itself very available to any student,” Soule said.