Admissions Office sees 10 percent rise in early apps

By Nicholas Nardini

The University of Chicago had a record number of applicants under the College’s Early Action program, receiving 3,041 applications from all 50 states and 39 countries. This year’s numbers show a nearly 10 percent increase from the 2,781 early applications received last year.

The jump correlates to a swelling recognition of the University of Chicago among college-bound students, according to Michael Behnke, vice president and dean of enrollment for the College.

“We are getting better known,” he said.

Early applicant Mike Wymbs, a high school senior from Beach Haven, N.J., first considered the U of C after receiving a postcard from the Admissions Office that prominently featured the band ABBA on its cover. The postcard used ABBA to segue into boasting about its Nobel laureates: Both ABBA and the Nobel Prize are Swedish.

The postcard was part of a campaign of brand new publications issued by the Admissions Office this year. Behnke cited the new campaign as the chief reason for the rise in applications.

“This is the first time we changed our publications since I came here in 1997,” he said. “We kept the title ‘Life of the Mind,’ but that’s about it. Back in the ’90s, focus groups said our students didn’t really utilize the city of Chicago, so our advertisements didn’t focus on it. Now, we have a better bus system, we have more internship opportunities…so our new mailing campaign concentrates on the city.”

The new publications include a booklet of quotes about the city, a viewbook printed with pages on the University and the city printed opposite and upside-down from each other, and a University of Chicago crest coloring contest.

This year, the University also began a “Summer in Chicago” program for prospective students and their families that paired information sessions with city events like the Taste of Chicago and the Chicago Blues Festival.

Behnke also cited a national trend toward early applications as another reason for the jump. “At some of the prep schools on the East Coast, over 90 percent of students are applying early somewhere,” he said.

Behnke added that Chicago’s jump in U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings was probably a factor.

“But we’re finding that the rankings really just help students to find colleges to consider and that they aren’t used to make final decisions. That’s actually a reasonable use of the rankings,” he said.

Others, however, see a less auspicious cause for the rise. Ming Cai, an early applicant to Chicago from the Pennsylvania prep school Main Line, said a friend of hers who attends another high school nearby knows of five students applying early to the University.

“She explained to me that of the people applying, none of them actually really want to go to Chicago, they just think that it’s easier to get into than any Ivy League school and that it has a really ‘prestigious name,’ so they just applied,” Cai said.

This year, Yale University received 13 percent fewer early applications than it did last year. The Yale admissions office told the student-run Yale Daily News that “the decrease in early applications for the Class of 2011 may have resulted from a reaction to last year’s record-low acceptance rate, among other possible factors.”

Ivy League colleges have been witnessing a general decline in the number of early applicants, and next year, Harvard University and Princeton University plan to terminate their early application programs.

Last year, the U of C admitted about 41 percent of early applicants. Yale admitted 17.7 percent, Harvard admitted 21.3 percent, Brown admitted 22.9 percent, and Princeton admitted 27 percent, according to their respective admissions offices.

Roger Fierro and Sam Rosenberg, fourth-year co-chairs of the Prospective Students Advisory Committee, deny that relatively higher admissions percentages account for the jump in applicants.

“We are a self-selecting school. Not everyone is interested in UChicago, so we get a smaller body of applicants and can afford to accept more people,” Fierro said.

Behnke, however, acknowledged that this might be a factor, and predicted that it will become a larger one as the University’s recognition grows.

“The only clear trend in new students at Chicago is their increasing quality and performance,” he said.

Wymbs, the senior from New Jersey, is optimistic about his chances of acceptance to the University. “I wrote the ‘Why Chicago?!’ essay as a parody to the song ‘Kokomo’ by the Beach Boys. Hopefully, that will help this ‘beach boy’ get admitted,” he said.

Admissions officers declined interview requests, citing the large number of applications they are now reviewing.