UC Berkeley collects 2nd-most revenue among US colleges from declined freshman applicants

Elizabeth Byrne/Staff

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Bringing in millions of dollars annually, UC Berkeley ranked second on a list of the 500 highest-earning colleges in the country in terms of revenue from declined freshman applications, according to a LendEDU study.

The study provides “ballpark” figures from the 2016-17 admissions cycle, according to research analyst and study author Mike Brown, and it found that UC Berkeley made about $5.8 million from freshman applications — $4.8 million of which came from nearly 70,000 rejected applicants.

In terms of revenue from declined freshman applications, UC Berkeley came in second behind UCLA. UC Berkeley also ranked highly in total application revenue — it came in third in the nation, behind UCLA and UC San Diego, according to the study.

These numbers, however, do not account for the approximately 30 percent of applicants who apply with a partial or full fee waiver. The study serves as an indicator of how popular a college is among applicants as well as a tool that helps students understand the cost of applying to multiple colleges, according to Brown.

“The biggest thing it shows students is: ‘Don’t overextend yourself when you’re applying to colleges,’ ” Brown said. “If you don’t have any intention of going there, don’t apply. Save the money.”

According to UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore, with fee waivers accounted for, the campus brought in approximately $5 million from application revenue in the 2017-18 academic year.

Though the LendEDU study thoroughly analyzes undergraduate freshman application revenue, it does not account for the large number of transfer applications that UC schools receive.

Similarly to previous and subsequent admission cycles, UC Berkeley received more than 80,000 freshman applications and close to 20,000 transfer applications during the 2016-17 admissions cycle — the revenue generated by these transfer applications, however, was not accounted for in the LendEDU study.

During the same admissions cycle, only about 2,000 transfer students applied to Stanford University.

Allocating application revenue

UC Berkeley does not receive this revenue directly, however. Application revenue is first delivered to the UC Office of the President for processing. According to UC spokesperson Amy Weitz, the revenue is used to first pay credit card transaction fees from applications and is then allocated to UC campuses based on the number of applications each campus receives.

Part of the revenue UC Berkeley earns is used internally to compensate those involved in the application review process. The rest is combined with “other central resources,” including state funding and tuition, and is then allocated to the central budget office, according to Gilmore. She added that the money is used to “support university operations and priorities,” which include the undergraduate and graduate admissions offices.

ASUC Student Advocate Sophie Bandarkar said she would like to see a portion of the revenue the campus makes from applications go toward recruitment and retention initiatives. Based on her time working in the Student Advocate’s Office during the past four years, Bandarkar said she has noticed a gap in funding for recruitment and retention. She added that she wonders why a large amount of funding for this cause comes from the Student Transformation through Academic Recruitment and Retention referendum that passed on last year’s ASUC ballot rather than from the revenue the campus brings in from applications.

I’d be curious why that money is coming from an ASUC referendum instead of this pool of money,” Bandarkar said. “Recruitment and retention could also encompass basic needs for (students) being able to survive and thrive while they’re here.”

The price of applying to college

Though UC schools topped the list of application revenue earnings, the $70 UC application fee is not the steepest price some prospective students pay when applying to universities. Ivy League application fees range from $80 at Dartmouth College to $85 at Columbia University.

High application fees seem to be a trend among many private universities nationally — according to an annual U.S. News & World Report survey, students applying to Stanford without a fee waiver pay more for their $90 application than anyone else.

Many Ivy League universities and highly ranked private schools do not receive as many applications as the UC schools, however. In recent years, UCLA and UC Berkeley have each received more than 100,000 total applications. Stanford regularly receives fewer than 50,000 total applications. In 2018, all Ivy League universities received fewer than 45,000 applications each.

“I think (UC) Berkeley — in terms of its international reputation — sort of excels some of these schools, and the fact that it’s a public school makes a huge difference from an accessibility standpoint,” Bandarkar said. “(The number of applications) is definitely surprising, but it is exciting at the same time.”

Campus freshman Kaylin Wittry applied to both public and private schools before ultimately choosing UC Berkeley. Wittry said she believes that the price tags on private school applications may keep prospective students from applying. She added that, in the mind of a potential applicant, a high-priced application may reinforce the reality of steep tuition, which can be off-putting.

Wittry, who applied to eight UC schools, said the fact that all UC schools accept the same application and essays may encourage students to apply to multiple campuses.

“For the UCs, I just thought it would be easier to apply to more of them because it’s one application, so it’s easier to just ‘click, click, click,’ ” Wittry said.

‘No. 1 public university’

Before transferring to UC Berkeley, junior Andrew Garcia attended five community colleges to ensure that he had completed the prerequisites needed for his major before stepping foot on a four-year college campus.

Garcia applied to three UC schools and two private schools in California. He said he did not consider applying to highly ranked private schools because he, like many other transfer students, wanted to be “realistic” during the application process.

Garcia said that as a community college student, he did not pursue an associate degree, automatically taking schools that required one out of consideration. He added that he thought he would have needed a higher GPA in order to get into certain private schools.

“Realistically, Stanford was not an option,” Garcia said. “As transfer students, we know where we can get into and where we can’t.”

Garcia said that although Stanford carries a mantra suggesting it is a “big, glorious school,” the fact that UC Berkeley exists in within the larger UC system may make it seem less intimidating to potential applicants.

Wittry said students coming from public high schools may be more inclined to apply to the UC campuses, given the advice available from an extensive network of previous high school alumni who have graduated and attended UC schools.

Garcia added that UC Berkeley’s “really good” education and culture may contribute to giving students a realistic college experience “that everyone wants.”

“I definitely think the title of ‘No. 1 public university’ makes so many people choose Berkeley,” Wittry said. “The education is so hard to turn away from.”

Rachel Barber is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.