Every stepping stone in life can feel heavy on the bank account. To begin the process of university means lots and lots of applications. And because the chances of getting into any school can be uncertain, it was common to hear from advisors to apply to at least three schools.

From a survey on The Phoenix News’s Instagram, I found that I am not alone. 58 per cent of participants applied to between two and five universities, while 14 per cent of participants applied to one, and 28 per cent applied to six or more.

By the end of my applications, I had four schools in the line-up and a $350 non-refundable bill to prove it. Luckily, I had been working most summers and used my savings to pay for this expense, but honestly, I had no clue what could justify such a high cost. For most undergraduate and graduate university applications, this non-refundable fee can range from $50–$250 per application

Sadly, this model isn't unique to only universities. Many student writers will often be tasked with paying application fees for magazines or contests for the slim chance of being chosen. These fees are a considerable change from past events, where these practices were usually called out as an immediate red flag.

There are logical reasons to justify fees, like covering expenses, such as labour and administrative costs, to look at thousands of written essays, transcripts, and a mountain of extracurricular forms. But, perhaps more prominently, these fees greatly benefit the university.

Universities shortlist applications by imposing considerable costs. By doing this, universities can generate higher grade point average (GPA) margins for applications, add “prestige” to programs, and ensure the number of applicants to each program is limited. In turn, these public institutes play into an elitist game of tug-a-rope, pulling on our nerves and being unconcerned with the pressure this can put on financially struggling students. 

For some people, a few hundred dollars might not sound that serious. However, applications are just the tipping point. First, before packing their bags, new students must make a tuition deposit on top of the applications to secure a spot at the university. Additionally, international students will have other stressful fees, such as visa processing. These applications can build up to more than a thousand dollars if you apply to multiple schools.

In my case, I am a domestic student, and the cost for my application fee was far less than the application costs for international students. At each UBC campus, the application cost for international students is almost 50 per cent more than that of a domestic student. Coupled with more significant tuition increases, this creates inescapable barriers for domestic and international students who need to consider whether they are financially independent.

Currently, some universities will waive the fees for undergraduate programs, and some will waive this fee for graduate programs. Both UBC campuses are some of the few universities that offer an option to waive the price for all graduate programs in some instances. The fee will be waived for foreign students if the applicant is from the list of 50 countries outlined by the United Nations as being “least developed” or if the applicant is a senior citizen. However, the downside of this generalized model is that it assumes that individuals in other countries all have the same financial stability.

Therefore, it becomes a conundrum — how could this application process change? These fees and deposits come before eligibility for loan applications; consequently, for younger students, this can create financial dependency on their families to start up, a privilege that not everyone has. Some would argue that students can work hard and save up — but to what end? 

If these systems consistently create barriers to education before even attending and paying the obligatory student fees, supply fees, and living necessities — how is university a justifiable expense? Now, educational platforms are being offered online everywhere by companies and freelancers. Will this become the more desirable choice?

As someone looking into the possibility of graduate school, I am again faced with these considerations on top of the stress of completing my final years with a competitive transcript. From my research, I found some graduate programs that would waive the application fees. Still, as I consider my next steps, I am questioning how these degrees will serve me other than delaying my inevitable debut into the workforce. 

All of this said, I caution everyone to think about how university education should serve you. Before any of us invest in education, companies, or distributors — honestly ask yourself — how will they invest in me?