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Undergraduate application fees, 2020

I often wonder if we'd have an application fee if we were creating the admissions process from scratch today.  But we do, and there are actually some good reasons for doing so, not the least of which is that it costs a lot of money to process and manage applications.

Some people have wondered aloud whether app fees are simply a money-making enterprise for colleges, and the answer is yes, no, and sort of.  We can't think of universities as charities, and the people doing the work of admissions have to get paid; conceptually, it makes sense to charge a fee to applicants, since some substantial percentage of them will never pay tuition on your campus.

But it's too easy and incorrect to multiply applications by the app fee and assume that money flows into the admissions office.  Even at those universities where the streams are directed to admissions rather than into a general fund, some substantial percentage of students get a fee waiver.  And, as you'll see, about half of the post-secondary options in the US don't charge an application fee at all.

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There are four views here;

Universe shows all 6,400+ post secondary institutions in IPEDS, arrayed and colored by the 2020 undergraduate application fee.  Use the filters to limit the colleges displayed, and use the Highlight box to find one particular institution.

By Carnegie Types arrays app fees by, well, Carnegie types, using a box-and-whisker plot.  The points are colored by institutional control, and you can filter if you'd like.

Distributions shows a count for every application fee listed, and the number of colleges charging that amount.  As you can see, $0, $50, and $100 fees are the most popular, but some colleges charge $1, $2, or even--for some reason--$99.  (I didn't vet these, so of course there may be data entry errors by the people filling out the surveys.)

Finally, Listing is just a bar chart of all the fees.  Scroll down and see, or use the box at the top to filter to some institutions based on a key word.

Let me know if these views surprise you, or if you have other topics that might be of interest.



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