January 24, 2006

Early application up 11.8 percent

The Office of College Admissions enjoyed an 11.8 percent increase in early applications this year, with major strides made in minority recruitment. The 2,764 early action applicants mark one of the largest pools in the College’s history.

Up by nearly 300 early applications compared to last year’s pool, the 11.8 percent increase is a large jump compared to the two percent increase seen last fall. Of the early applicants, 1,137 (41 percent) were admitted, which is 152 more than were admitted last year.

The admissions office held a new overnight program for minority students in November when 120 prospective students stayed in the dorms, attended classes, and spoke with a panel of current minority students about their experiences at the University.

One-third of the prospective students were flown in for the weekend at the school’s expense. The program came about in response to student requests at a Provost’s Initiative of Minority Issues (PIMI) meeting last spring.

The Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA) helped plan the program with the admissions office.

“We were very happy to be able to collaborate formally with OMSA in designing parts of the program,” said Paul Ford, assistant director of admissions and interim director for Student of Color Recruitment.

Of the early admits, 4.66 percent were black, and 5.8 percent were Latino, which is consistent with last year’s numbers. Dean of Admissions Ted O’Neill is optimistic about the new program’s potential. “I think it’ll help the minority numbers either in this year or in future years,” he said. “We’re going to do it again next year.”

Reacting to this year’s admissions statistics, O’Neill expressed satisfaction. “Needless to say, we felt this was not only a larger pool, but a stronger one,” O’Neill said.

While O’Neill said he is not certain why the increase occurred, he said it might be due to the accessibility of the online application.

“We’d love to think that it’s because we’re recruiting harder, but I’m safest saying that more students applied online and applied earlier, rather than later,” O’Neill said.

The writing section of the new 2,400-point SAT test will have no effect on a student’s application to the College. The verbal and math sections, however, will still be included in the application.

“We don’t know what they mean,” O’Neill said of the writing section scores. “We will continue evaluating applicants on the old 1,600 scale until we can do some research to find out whether the writing test is predictive of anything that the other scores, the grades, the course selection, the essays, the interview, the letters, et cetera, do not adequately predict.”

He added that applicants’ interest in the U of C’s rigorous liberal arts education is evident in their essays, their curriculum, and their overall applications.

“This is probably in part because of the communication that we have with them, but students seem to be hearing us and pegging the U of C correctly,” O’Neill said.

Although admissions counselors are still reading regular notification applications, O’Neill has some sense of what the overall picture will look like.

“I’m guessing that we’re going to be up in overall applications in the eight to ten percent range,” O’Neill said. He added that international applications in the regular decision pool increased this year.

National politics could also play a role at the college admissions level. Last month the Senate passed a bill that not only included a $3.75 billion student aid program, but also will allow the federal government to rate academic rigor of the country’s 18,000 high schools. The program would provide $750 to $1,300 grants to low-income first- and second-year college students who have fulfilled a “rigorous secondary school program of study.”

O’Neill is wary of the initiative: “I think we should have real reservations about this administration, this Department of Education, or any administration trying to determine local school policy,” he said.

The program would also give larger grants to college upperclassmen majoring in math, science, and “other critical fields,” according to The New York Times.

“Who’s to say that [the U of C’s] English majors aren’t as important to the health of America as computer science majors or electrical engineers? I’m not willing to concede that,” O’Neill said. “Why should our students suffer for not having accessibility to these funds? It seems to me short-sighted and an oddly top-down approach for an allegedly free-market government.”