Ottawa-Carleton District School Board says new university application fee unfair

Trustees with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board are calling for the cancellation of a new $50 fee that students must pay if they change their minds about where to apply for university or college.

Students who change their minds about where to apply must pay a $50 fee

Ontario students applying to institutions like the University of Ottawa have to pay $150 for their first three choices. Now, they're also facing a new $50 fee if they want to swap one potential university or college for another. (Danny Globerman/CBC)

Trustees with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board are calling for the cancellation of a $50 fee that students now must pay if they change their minds about where to apply for university or college.

All students are required to pay a base fee of $150, which allows them to submit three applications. If students want to apply to additional schools, they must pay an extra $50 for every extra application.

In previous years, students had the option of changing their minds about their three choices without facing financial penalties. However, starting with the 2016-17 academic year, the Ontario Universities Application Centre (OUAC) has begun issuing a $50 fee whenever a switch is requested.

"I think that if [students] have paid to apply to a university through OUAC, they shouldn't be charged a supplemental fee," said OCDSB student trustee Kayvon Mihan.

"Sometimes circumstances change. Situations change."

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board student trustee Kayvon Mihan says the new change fee is burdensome and unfair. (Idil Mussa/CBC News)

Last week, the OCDSB approved a motion to write a letter to OUAC, urging them to reconsider the new fee.

Mihan said that two other school boards in Ontario — the Peel District School Board and Waterloo Region District School Board — have already written similar letters.

"Post-secondary education itself presents a large enough barrier, and for that you may be able to get student loans to help pay tuition," said Mihan.

"But when it comes to applying to schools, that money comes right from your pocket. And whether or not you're eligible for loans doesn't matter at that point."

Promoting fairness and encouraging thoughtfulness 

OUAC acting executive director George Granger said there is financial support, however, for students who are having difficulty paying post-secondary education application fees.

"When a school is aware of a family or student that's in that situation, where circumstances might prevent them from filing an application, we're told that the school — when they know about it — they find ways to support that student and that family," he said.

Granger said the new fee isn't about generating revenue, but instead making the application process more equitable and encouraging students to be thoughtful about their choices.

Under the old system, while some students paid to apply to additional schools, others took advantage of early, conditional offers of admission to switch their choices before the university acceptance deadline — all for free, said Granger.

"We had a growing number of students who were receiving an offer of admission and instead of accepting it, they were dropping that university, adding another one to see what came from that and then — in many cases — toggling back into their application and asking that original choice to be restored," he said.

"The universities were saying to us, 'We can't keep up with this, it's just too fluid.'"

However, Granger said students who modify a choice within the same university will not be charged the $50 fee under the new rules.

For example, if a student applies to study sociology at the University of Ottawa and then switches to economics, they will not have to pay to make that change, he said.