Student representatives of 11 colleges — including Cornell and the seven other Ivy League schools — called on their universities Wednesday to automatically waive application fees for first-generation and low-income applicants.
Leaders of student governing bodies from all Ivy League schools, as well as Northwestern University, Stanford University and the University of Chicago, endorsed the “No Apologies Initiative” led by Viet Nguyen, president of the Brown Undergraduate Council of Students. The initiative urges schools to begin waiving the fees next year.
Nguyen, in the three-page initiative, wrote of the “humiliating” process of emailing colleges at the last minute explaining that he could not pay the application fee because of the many other fees associated with applications, including submitting test scores and Advanced Placement credit.
“My emails were filled with apologies,” Nguyen wrote. “I was apologizing for the inconvenience I was causing. I was apologizing for how embarrassed I felt. I was apologizing for being poor.”
All of the colleges ultimately waived the fees, Nguyen said, but he said the process was “convoluted” and “unnecessary.”
“The guilt and shame alone almost stopped me from going to college,” he said.
Cornell requires first-year and transfer applicants to pay an $80 application fee but also offers several ways for prospective students to have the fee waived. Cornell applicants can submit a fee waiver request using any of several different forms or by submitting a letter from a guidance counselor or social service representative stating the fee would cause financial hardship.
Student Assembly President Jordan Berger ’17 said she signed the initiative because she wants to ease the burden for students who are already spending time and effort to submit applications to prestigious universities.
“It’s really important because of the ‘any person […] any study’ mission of Cornell that we shouldn’t have any barrier to applying,” Berger told The Sun. “A student shouldn’t feel held back because of their socioeconomic status.”
S.A. Executive Vice President Matthew Indimine ’18 said he discussed the initiative with Nguyen earlier in February when the two roomed together at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Bogotá, Colombia.
“People often praise our university and our peer universities — all the Ivies — for doing these ‘amazing’ things for people of all backgrounds,” Indimine said. “But they’re nowhere near acceptable as far as accessibility.”
Indimine has been working with Paola Muñoz ’17, president of the Cornell First Generation Student Union, and Nguyen over the last few weeks to strategize around the initiative. Indimine said he hopes the coordination of students at the 11 schools will put pressure on universities to comply with the request. No meetings have yet been scheduled between administrators, S.A. or the First Generation Student Union, but Indimine said he hopes the groups will be able to meet within the coming weeks.
If one school responds favorably, Berger said, it could create a domino effect of other institutions automatically waiving their application fees for first generation and low-income students.
“All of a sudden you would have students who are incentivized to apply to other schools instead of our school if other schools are adopting these policies,” Berger said.
Bowdoin College and Trinity College waived their application fees in 2015 for students who would, if accepted, be the first in their family to attend college, Nguyen said.