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How Admissions Has Changed, in One Chart

I frequently hear that the interactive charts I publish are too confusing or time-consuming, and that it's hard to get the story out of them without some work. So today, I'm making it easier for you, for two reasons: First, this is real student data, not summaries: Each dot represents a student who applied for financial aid, so I'd never publish that data on the web; this is just a good, old-fashioned picture of a chart.  Second, in this case, one chart tells the whole story.

The population here is all freshman financial aid applicants who completed a FAFSA but did not have need.

Each column is one year, and each dot in that column represents a student; higher positions in the column show higher income, from zero to one million dollars in parental AGI (adjusted gross income).  This is arrayed in a box-and-whiskers, or box plot.  The yellow boxes show the limits of the middle 50% of the distribution (the "box") with the color break representing the median.  The top whisker (the black horizontal lines) represent the 75th percentile.  In other words, 25% of the applicants have incomes above that line.  The bottom whisker is the lowest 25th percent. Yes, there are people with very low incomes who do not qualify for need-based aid, usually due to large asset bases.

Note the way the black line rises over time, from about $430,000 in 2007 to almost $600,000 in the last two years.  There are several possible explanations for this, all of which are probably valid to some extent.

  • It's a buyer's market, and college recruitment activities have brought in people who are shopping in more places
  • People who never would have applied for aid in prior years are doing so, because the crisis of 2007 has evaporated many assets, like home equity, that people might have used to pay for college
  • Other colleges are requiring a FAFSA for merit aid consideration so we get the FAFSA as a residual.  No one, it seems, is opposed to trying to get a lower cost
  • Colleges are so afraid of losing someone due to price considerations they encourage everyone to "give it a shot" and see if they are eligible.
One note: In 2014 we had 31 applicants whose income was $1,000,000 or more who are not shown here, and who would have brought the distribution up. These people used to show up in prior years as $999,999 dollars, so I took them out for equal comparisons. And, in anticipation of the next bump, we did have one family who reported an AGI of $9,999,999 for 2014 when they completed the FAFSA.

This post shows Financial Aid data, but the title says it's about how admissions has changed. What do you think? How are the two related?


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