January 29, 2008

College apps jump by record numbers

Applications to the College rose nearly 20 percent this year, resulting in the largest applicant pool in the history of the University. The College received 12,381 applications for the 2008–2009 year, up from 10,334 applicants last year, said Michael Behnke, vice president and dean of College enrollment at the University.

While College admissions officers anticipated this year’s rise in applications, Behnke said that the 20-percent increase was larger than expected.

The rise in College applications reflects a nationwide trend among several top academic institutions. Northwestern, Dartmouth, and Amherst all reported application increases this year that were greater than 10 percent.

The increases are in part the result of Harvard’s and Princeton’s announcements that they would end their early-decision options this year, Behnke said. Consequently, more students are sending out early applications to other institutions, including the University of Chicago.

Early applications to the College rose 46 percent this year. As a result, the early-acceptance rate dropped from 39 percent to 33 percent, Behnke said.

Despite the recent hike in College applications, Behnke said that the admissions office does not plan to expand the undergraduate class size to accommodate the growing number of applicants.

“Actually, the last two classes have been too large. We over-accepted. So this class will be smaller. We expect to have a large waiting list and plan on using it,” he said.

New mailing initiatives and recruitment strategies also contributed to the hike in applicants, Behnke said. He added that this year the College began reaching out to students via educational testing services.

“We have been buying more names from testing agencies—the SAT and the ACT. We’ve been in contact with more students,” he said.

In particular, applications to the College from Latino and international students both showed double-digit percentage increases this year—34 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

“These two groups were our largest increases,” Behnke said. “We’re increasing our international travel and recruitment…. And we have an ongoing effort to increase interest among ethnic minorities.”

“We’ve had really good reception these last few years with Latino and African-American students. We’ve always been popular with Asian-American students,” he added.

Behnke predicts that international students will make up about 10 percent of the incoming class, up from four or five percent a decade ago.

“This number probably won’t increase much,” he said. “This is already a higher percentage than most of our peer institutions.”

Although the College saw increases in applicants from Europe and Africa, interest in the school was especially strong among applicants from Asian countries.

“We recruit all over the place. But we are by far most popular in Asia,” Behnke said.

The College has also sought to increase interest among lower- and middle-income students this year through its new Odyssey Scholarship Program, Behnke said. The scholarship, which will replace student loans with grant money for approximately 1,200 students, will be launched in fall 2008.

Next year the College will phase out the Uncommon Application in favor of the widely used Common Application. Behnke said that he expects that the transition will trigger another surge in applications to the College.

“Last year Northwestern switched to the Common Application and saw a huge increase in applicants. Historically, there has been a one-time increase of about 10 percent [when schools adopt the Common Application],” he said.

Despite growing interest in the College, Behnke debunked the notion that the College is compromising the intellectual rigor and quirkiness of the undergraduate population by expanding its applicant pool.

He added that he does not think that this year’s admissions statistics indicate a fundamental shift in perceptions about the University.

“I’m not sure our efforts have changed perceptions [of the University]. I think it’s more awareness. I think we’re seen by many students as a good intellectual match for them. Next year we’ll still have our wonderful essays in the supplement [to the Common Application]. I think many students apply to the University just because of those essays,” he said.