U.S. News and World Report released its annual rankings last week, and George Mason University hit No. 1.
It was not on the best colleges list — Harvard and Princeton shared that honor, while GMU was ranked 138th. Or on a ranking of top public schools, where it was No. 69. Or a list of up-and-coming schools, where it was No. 2.
GMU’s top honor: Highest application fee.
It costs $100 to apply to GMU, according to a blog post on the U.S. News Web site, which is higher than Stanford University ($90), Columbia or Villanova universities ($80) or Harvard ($75).
Startling news, right?
But the thing is ... less than 1 percent of GMU applicants pay the full hundred bucks, which is the rate for those applying on paper via snail mail.
“Almost no one pays that,” said Daniel J. Robb, GMU assistant dean of admissions. “We’re actually more friendly with our application fee than the 100 dollars would indicate.”
More than 99 percent of applicants apply online and pay $60. The university also waives either application fee for students who cannot afford to pay. Robb said that each year, the university receives many, many more applications where the fee has been waived than applications with a $100 check attached.
The university set the two amounts a few years ago to financially incentivize students to apply online instead of the old-fashion way. It’s more environmentally friendly, Robb said. Plus, GMU reviews all of its applications electronically, so when the admissions office receives a pile of papers, a staffer has to input the information into a computer.
“It physically takes more time — and that costs more,” Robb said.
Bob Morse, U.S. News’ director of data research and master of all-things-rankings, said the magazine often does short, online-only listings like this one as a way to use its massive piles of data about ranked schools. The application amounts cited were all provided by the universities, he said.
“I guess $60 wouldn’t have made the Top 10,” he said. “I’m not sure what to say. They’re the ones who gave us the $100 [amount]. Maybe they should have given us the other number.”