Undergraduate admissions stays on course

By Tim Michaels

With several universities around the country tweaking their early admissions policies and various publications redefining their college-ranking systems, the undergraduate admissions office here at the University has not noticed any significant changes in the early pool of applicants. Instead of worrying about declining numbers, admissions officials say they are eager to track the results of the ongoing adjustments in college admissions.

Predictions for the applicant pool for the 2003-2004 academic year seem to be consistent with previous years, though it is difficult, as of now, to predict any new trends in the group applying for the November 1 deadline.

For example, whether or not Yale and Princeton’s decisions to accept early action candidates will affect the University remains to be seen.

“The numbers look fine, but we really won’t know how things have gone until after the November 1 deadline,” said Ted O’Neill, dean of admissions for the College.

Last year, both Yale and Princeton announced that they would change their early admissions policies from early decision to early action. The change spurred new debate over the benefits and problems of applying early, an option more and more students think increases their chances of acceptance.

In addition, Harvard announced a new policy that holds applicants to only one early application. “There is a chance that Harvard’s new policy will take some applicants out of our pool, but we don’t know that yet,” O’Neill said.

While Universities quarrel over the early admissions program, The Atlantic Monthly has published its first extensive evaluation of the college application process. The evaluation includes a rating of the top colleges, which has incited a great deal of criticism and controversy.

The magazine rated large universities alongside small liberal arts colleges, while most magazines and books that rate schools, such as The U.S. News and World Report, separate colleges from universities.

On these lists, the University of Chicago ranked 13th in U.S. News and World Report but ranked a surprising 39th in The Atlantic Monthly.

However, the admissions office is not concerned about how this new rating might affect their number of applicants. O’Neill referred to the ratings as “a joke.”

“One assumes that anyone smart enough to want to attend the University of Chicago would not be guided by a spoof,” O’Neill said.

Prospective students, for the most part, agree with O’Neill about the importance of The Atlantic Monthly’s rating system. However, Ivan Anderson, the Prospective Students Advisory Committee events coordinator, said that although the administration puts little credence in rankings, some potential applicants consider such studies as a potentially important factor during the application process.

“Since most high school students can’t take the time to travel to all the colleges that they would be interested in, it is easy, and often helpful, to use ratings and similar recommendations to limit where you apply,” said Karen Kingsley, a Chicago high school student who is applying to the University in the early action program.

Others disagree. “Visiting a college is a much better way to discover if it is the right college for you. Sometimes the ratings simply don’t apply,” said Anna West, a prospective student from Birmingham, Michigan.

If any trend stands out, it is that undergraduate applications—and admissions—are on the rise. Last year, the University saw a 12 percent increase in early admissions. While most universities are experiencing periods of adjustment and vast changes in early admissions programs, the University says it is only tweaking their current policies to improve communication with prospective students.