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Do Application Fees Increase Enrollment Rates?

ApplyBoard prides itself on delivering strong conversion rates to our partner schools, and high visa approval rates for our students. Our sophisticated vetting process helps connect institutions with talented students from across the world. We’ve helped more than 300,000 international students access education since 2015.

We believe that professionalization of recruitment is vital for the international education sector. That’s why we’re constantly looking to innovate within the industry, such as with our recent acquisition of TrainHub. Naturally, this often leads us to examining the sector’s best practices to find new areas for efficiency. We’ve previously looked at the impact of letter of acceptance (LOA) turnaround time, and found delayed LOAs can reduce tuition deposit or enrollment confirmation rates by nearly 50%.

Building on those findings, today we’ll be sharing some of our exclusive internal data regarding program application fees, hoping to further help schools process applications efficiently.1

Key Insights at a Glance

  • Programs without application fees have the lowest application-to-enrollment conversion rate.
  • Higher application fees result in higher enrollment conversion rates.
  • No fees lead to increased application volume, but not an enrollment volume advantage compared to programs with fees.

Application Fees and Overall Application-to-Enrollment Conversion Rates

Our internal data shows that higher application fees result in higher application-to-enrollment conversion rates. We broke the programs down into four fee categories: $0, $1-50, $51-100, and over $100.2

The sharpest difference in conversion rate between subsequent tiers was between programs with free applications and programs with a $1-50 application fee. Programs costing up to $50 to apply were twice as effective at converting applications into enrollments compared to those without an application fee.

Each fee tier had a higher application-to-enrollment conversion rate than the preceding tier.

Does Additional Application Volume Result in Increased Enrollment Volume?

More students applied to programs with no application fee than all programs with fees combined. Also, over twice the number of students applied to programs without an application fee than to programs with a fee between $51 and $100.

It’s not surprising that programs without application fees receive the most applications. As such, it makes sense that these programs convert applicants into confirmed enrollments at lower rates due to the volume of incoming applications. The question becomes, does the volume of confirmed enrollments justify the lower conversion rate?

Despite seeing nearly twice the number of applications, free application programs received no discernable advantage for overall enrollment.

Conversion Rates for Destination Markets

In Canada, just under half of ApplyBoard’s students applied to programs without an application fee. Programs with a fee over $100 converted applicants into confirmed enrollment at more than twice the rate as programs with no application fee. And although programs with free applications received nearly twice as many applicants than programs with a fee between $50 and $100, the latter actually had a 13% higher volume of enrollments.

In the US, almost three quarters of our students applied to programs without an application fee. Programs with a free application received more than four times the number of applicants than programs with a fee between $1-50, but only twice as many confirmed enrollments.

Finally, in both the UK and Australia, nearly 100% of our students applied to programs that did not have an application fee. Unsurprisingly, these two destination markets have a weaker overall conversion rate than their North American counterparts.

The Bottom Line

Programs without an application fee see an influx of applications, naturally leading to lower enrollment conversion rates. However, this increased application volume does not give programs without an application fee an advantage in enrollment volume versus programs with application fees.

This means that schools with free applications must spend at least twice as much time evaluating applicants without receiving much benefit in return. And because delayed LOAs correlate with reduced tuition fees, the inefficiencies created by a free application may ultimately be putting those schools at a competitive disadvantage compared to those with application fees.

Schools introducing an application fee for programs that currently lack one could be good news for international students, too. A delayed LOA can significantly bottleneck the study abroad journey. With an LOA in hand, students can further their applications for courses, scholarships, and student visas. But if schools are sifting through two or three times as many applications due to lack of fees, students may be stuck waiting longer for their results. Also, paying to submit an application naturally increases the odds that a student will pay more attention to the finer details and submit a higher-quality application, thereby increasing their chances of approval.

At ApplyBoard, we believe that access to education is a right. We look forward to helping both our students and partner schools find the most success possible.

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About the ApplyInsights Team

Led by ApplyBoard Co-Founder and CMO Meti Basiri, the ApplyInsights Team analyzes the latest government, third-party, and ApplyBoard internal data, to provide a complete picture of trends in the international education industry. They also work with industry experts and ApplyBoard team members to gather local insights across key source and destination countries, where ApplyBoard has helped more than 300,000 students around the world.



1. The data ranges from our inception in 2015 to April 2022.

2. Application tiers are in the currency of the destination, e.g., CAD for Canada, USD for the US.


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