Waive the housing application fee for incoming UT freshmen

Anandi Barker

High school seniors submitting their housing applications to colleges for next fall must juggle multiple uncertainties: online classes, safety precautions, financial insecurity and more. 

While it is difficult for colleges to plan for the future with so little information about the course of the pandemic, it is important to place student concerns first. To support incoming freshmen and alleviate some of their worries, UT should waive their housing application fee and refund those high school students who have already submitted a payment. 

The current UT housing policy involves a $50 non-refundable fee to start the application for on-campus housing. Students often have to pay this fee before they even know the status of their application to the University because housing is provided on a first-come, first-served basis. However, paying the fee does not necessarily guarantee students a spot in an on-campus residence hall. 

Justin Jaskowiak, the UT Director of Apartments, Occupancy and Conferences, said that the housing application fee would continue to be in place for Fall 2021. 

“The [housing] application fee is an administrative fee,” Jaskowiak said. “That covers the administrative costs of processing applications, choosing the housing contracts, and working with the students during that time.”

However, in the midst of a pandemic and a potential oncoming recession, these administrative fees place undue financial stress on the incoming students. Economic stressors such as health care, mortgage payments or small business closures are on the line for some families. 

UT’s nonrefundable and non-binding application fee for on-campus housing should not be adding to these stressors. 

High school students already have a slew of administrative fees to get through the door to higher education. They must pay for their AP exams and standardized tests, pay to send in those test scores and pay another application fee to submit their applications for college. 

The uncertainty about the fall 2021 semester only adds to this burden. UT has not yet released their decision about the status of the fall semester. Students should not be expected to pay the $50 housing application fee without crucial information about the potential of online classes and how residence halls will be enforcing social distancing policies in the future. Once this information is solidified, students may end up deciding not to move into residence halls. 

High school senior Madison Jones would consider living on campus for the fall 2021 semester if classes were back in person. But given the unpredictability of the fall, she is not sure if that will be a possibility. 

“(I) don’t know what it’s going to be like next year,” Jones said. “Having that $50 fee without even knowing if I’m going to be able to live on campus is kind of bizarre right now.” 

It is true that students don’t have to live on campus, but most incoming freshmen depend on the support and community of on-campus residence halls to ease their transition to the University. Thus, the additional housing cost in the application process limits the pool of competitive applicants to only those who can afford to apply for housing at this time of financial uncertainty. UT must understand the unspoken financial burden that their application process places on their incoming students. 

The best solution to this uncertainty would be to waive the housing application fee for on-campus residence halls for incoming freshmen. Once UT releases their plans for the fall semester concerning online classes and COVID-19 precautions, high school seniors can properly plan their fall semesters and decide on the best course of action. 

Barker is a government sophomore from Arlington, TX.