The College received 15 percent fewer early applications than it did during last year’s record-high, according to admissions office figures. Admissions officials attributed the decline to several factors, including the current fiscal crisis and the College’s increased selectivity, a potential deterrent to “casual applicants.”
The College received 3,795 applications this year, the second-highest early pool in the College’s history, compared to 4,424 applications last year.
The decline is particularly notable since this year is the first time the College used the Common Application, a move that was expected to make the University more accessible to prospective students, increasing the applicant pool.
Dean of College Admissions Ted O’Neill said it was too early to tell exactly what effect the application switch had in comparison to other factors, like financial aid availability.
“I’m not sure right now what the markers would be that would tell us that the Common Application attracted students or sent applicants away,” he said in an e-mail interview. “Of course, in any year in which there are many variables, which is to say every year, a lot of things would have to be taken into account to see which influences were significant.”
Applications increased for international and black students, as well as Americans living abroad. Latino applications slightly decreased. The most significant change came from the Midwest (excluding Illinois), where 36 percent fewer students applied to the College.
“We have to at least consider the possibility that the economy may disproportionately affect a Midwestern university in competition with most of the best public universities in the country and in a part of the country where going to public universities is a perfectly acceptable behavior,” O’Neill said.
Northwestern, however, which is also located in Illinois, saw a 15 percent increase in its early applications. Officials there were surprised with the results, expecting, like O’Neill, that the fiscal climate would compel highschool students to apply to public colleges.
O’Neill also said that the large increase from last year may not have been sustainable, regardless of the economic situation.
“[The increase] may simply have been an anomaly,” he said.
Harvard and Princeton both discontinued their early admissions programs last year, which many admissions experts said caused significant increases in peer schools’ early admissions numbers. But several schools that received a boon last year continued the trend this year. Dartmouth, MIT, Stanford, and Yale all received over 10 percent more applicants than last year.
Last year’s College acceptance rate, the lowest in the College’s history, may also have impacted application numbers, O’Neill said. The increase in both regular and early applications led the College’s acceptance rate to go from 35 to 28 percent, representing an increase in selectivity.
“So, coming off the best year ever in admissions at Chicago, we can only guess that casual applicants were discouraged by our increased selectivity. The quality of the early applicants so far seems to bear that out,” O’Neill said.
While not familiar enough with the University’s situation to make a conclusive judgment, Melissa Clinedinst, assistant director of research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said that a one-year change in selectivity usually does not affect the next year’s early applications.
“Students have an idea of what colleges they want to apply to earlier than when the selectivity numbers are released. They also have a sense of how selective certain schools are,” Clinedinst said. “I think it’ll be interesting to see early numbers alongside regular numbers and see if they correlate.”
So far, O’Neill said, despite the decrease in early applicants, regular decision applications are outpacing last year’s numbers. The deadline for applications is January 2.