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Why Do Schools of Art and Design Have an Application Fee?

Updated on August 30, 2021
IrisHopp profile image

Iris graduated from FZD School of Design. Since graduation, Iris has been working as a concept artist and illustrator.

Would You Spend Up to $350 USD to Apply to An Art School?

Very few would pay that much just for bragging rights. A school knows that you are committed when you are willing to pay $$$ for a chance at being accepted to a top school.
Very few would pay that much just for bragging rights. A school knows that you are committed when you are willing to pay $$$ for a chance at being accepted to a top school.

Note that this article is a collection of my own thoughts.

First of all, an application fee is pretty normal. A lot of universities have them and even rental applications sometimes ask for a so-called "processing fee".

Usually this fee is around $50 and it's just to cover processing your application. A staff member has to look at and review your application. Their hourly wages have to be paid somehow.

At any given school, multiple staff members may look at your application. At a more prestigious school, there will be an interview process, a portfolio review and an art test. More distinguished schools may have more requirements to make that final decision of who to accept.

What would a higher fee cover? The school would also need to make Visa arrangements for an international student. High fees are enough to scare away prospective students, because who wants to fork over such a high amount when it's possible that they won't even be accepted into the school? There are no refunds. I believe that there is a second reason for a high application fee...

A top school reviews your application and your portfolio.   They also may conduct an interview and art test.
A top school reviews your application and your portfolio. They also may conduct an interview and art test.

What Can You Expect to Learn

It's well-known that it's expensive to study at the best art schools. The tuition is steep and there are little to no scholarships available. On top of that, you need enough money to live for the duration of the program. You might decide to attend a non-residential or international school. The course load can be enormous. Fourteen hour work days are the norm at the school I attended. Students may get only small breaks in their study during the entire program.

That said, some programs can deliver results. Students from all over the world join these schools and then go on to careers in concept art.


The Prestige Of Going To a Highly Distinguished School

I did not discuss the application fee with any of the founders or staff members of FZD.

For example, I attended FZD. It is a highly regarded art school. There's a waiting list to get into the program and class sizes are limited. FZD School of Design is a school in Singapore that promises to take students from amateur drawing skills to professional skills in just one year.

A lot of people want to go to FZD but they can't because of two reasons:

-it requires moving to Singapore for a year

-the tuition and living expenses combined will cost you a minimum of USD $60,000 for one year

Tens of thousands of people talk about the school online. They want to go to the school, they follow the school on YouTube and social media and they discuss the success of the freshmen and alumni. It's a dream to launch your concept art career by finishing a one-year enrollment at the school. Yet only a minuscule fraction of people actually enrolls.

Because the school is so highly regarded, without an application fee a lot of people would apply just to see if they could get in.

You don't always want thousands of people applying.

A Fee Screens Out Applicants Who Aren't Serious About Going To the School

We already said that it costs money to process the applications. Besides the individual screening, the school also has to compare thousands of applications to choose the best candidates that would fit for that particular school.

That extra effort and extra money spent on employees to select the best students turns out to be wasted because they're not even showing up. On top of that, for each student that doesn't actually commit, they have to go back and contact the other applicants until they find the ones that are actually attending.

Even with the lower application fees running from $50 to $100, you are going to get a lot of students who are not committed to your school. This happens with regular universities that have an application fee: students still apply to multiple ones with a hope that they will get accepted to a few,and will choose one that will be the best fit for them after they are accepted. This especially applies to students whose studies are funded by their parents.

But when you raise the fee to hundreds of dollars?

It Hurts To Pay So Much

Schools essentially are pre-selecting students that are already committed by having a higher application fee. The school will still screen whether the students can tackle the finances of a whole year of studying locally or abroad.

In the interview, the staff can evaluate your passions and long-term goals instead of trying to figure out whether this student actually wants to go to the school. Some applicants are dreamers and can sometimes have unrealistic hopes and expectations, only later to end up being forced to drop out. They are now more sure that the students are committed and a good fit for the program. Next, when students pass through the portfolio review, the interview and all the forms and procedures, most of them will not quit during the process of enrollment. The drop-outs won't be a bunch of "I just applied to see if I could get in", but only for serious personal reasons like illness.

For example, in my class a student dropped out midway through the school year because the whole economy of his home country collapsed and that affected his financial means to complete the year.

On the other hand, a different student was diagnosed with carpal tunnel before the school year. This student stayed enrolled and completed the school year.

It's A Low-Effort Way To Weed Out Students Who Wouldn't Succeed Anyway


The high application fee is more effective than the interview - you can bluff your way in a conversation, but a higher application fee can't be bluffed, because it's non-refundable. You have to pull out your wallet and once you apply, it will be gone forever. Even when your parents pay for it, they are not going to put down that much money if you're not sure about going.

There's a small similarity here with high tuition fees. In my class, the students who took out loans or who paid the cost from their savings were the most dedicated. The students who had parents pay their way were also hard-working and successful, but just slightly less so. Having to shoulder high tuition on your own is another way to pre-select the most dedicated. Those students that paid their own way were downright fanatical. They knew what they wanted and they took on a huge personal risk to succeed.


It Worked On Me

I considered only two schools when I decided to switch to a career as a professional artist. I had already decided to make the career jump and I felt pretty confident which school I preferred. And yet, when I visited their website and saw the $350 USD application fee, I closed the browser and thought about it again for a few more days.

Picture credit: all pictures in this article are from https://pixabay.com/

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