With the November 1 deadline in the past and the number of incoming early applications tapering off, the admissions office is beginning to sift through thousands of transcripts, essays, and test scores to mold the class of 2007.
The admissions office expects to see an increase for the fourth straight year in early applications, as the University continues to add new buildings and adapt the Core curriculum.
Dean of Admissions Ted O'Neill, a 21-year veteran in the College admissions office and the man with the final word in selecting members of the class of 2007, insists the University's facelift has not affected the applicant pool.
"We are seeing applicants very much like those we've always wanted to admit," he said. "Though we have a new dorm, soon a new gym, and an improved transportation system, we haven't created a different image. We are as much the University of Chicago as ever.
"We've become more attractive but not recreated ourselves," O'Neill said. "You always try to become more attractive."
The 2,500 early applications the admissions office expects pale in comparison to the volume of applications many universities with early decision programs receive. Though popularity of early decision programs has proliferated in the last decade, the College refuses to make the switch.
"We don't push early," said Andre Phillips, associate director of admissions. "There is a fervor to apply to places early, but we don't want that huge volume of students who aren't sure they want to go here."
O'Neill added that a binding application is not in students' interests. "It's coercive," he said. "We don't want to force that decision upon the applicants."
Ali Abedi, a senior at Casady High School in Edmond, Oklahoma and an early applicant to the College, agreed with O'Neill. His original plan was to attend college at home in Oklahoma or in Texas, but decided, because the application is non-binding, to apply to the University.
"I don't like the fact that you can only apply to one place early," he said. "I like leaving my options open."
O'Neill joked that the first year classes are perpetually better than the ones before them.
The statistics, however, clearly corroborate this.
The middle 50 percent of the class of 2006 had SAT scores ranging from 1340-1480, up 30 points from last year, and 78 percent of the class graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school.
The admissions office has not increased its standards, O'Neill said. He instead attributed the increase to the spike in the caliber of applicants.
"Competitive students are scoring better," he said. "We have more applications of all-around good students. But scores aren't something we use to make selections."
Despite the improving quality of applicants, the College fell this year from nine to 12 in the closely-monitored U.S. News and World Report rankings. O'Neill's greatest concern about the rankings is not that the College dropped three spots, but that prospective students use the rankings, whose ability to quantify education has long been questionable, to determine where they will apply.
But Kathryn Zabielinski, a senior at Coral Reef High School in Miami, Florida, said the ranking did not affect her decision. However, Zabielinski, who is interested in economics, did pay close attention to the University's high ranking in Business Week.
Zabielinski said one of the largest attractions of applying here was the essay choices, which gave her a greater opportunity to display herself than at other schools.
"The uncommon application is incomparable in that it offers the ability to really let the admissions hear your voice and see the real you, behind all the statistics," she said.
O'Neill stressed precisely this point, that what often sets applicants to the College apart from those of others schools is that prospective students here are more active in their approach to what they want. Instead of filling out a common application and waiting for responses, applicants here take matters into their own hands, O'Neill said.
"A lot of students just send off applications as if it's kind of their ticket to the big game and they hope people out there in the world will make decisions for them," O'Neill explained. "At this school, it's different."
Those who applied under the early action policy will get a response from the University by December 15.