A final tally of the online submissions and manila envelopes addressed to the admissions office revealed a record number of applicants to the College, which will be reviewed in the shadow of rekindled national discussion over affirmative action.
Up 12 percent from last year, the 9,100-person applicant pool for the College's class of 2007 outstrips the general nation-wide increase, placing it in the company of only a few schools that saw double-digit percentage hikes.
Two other schools leading the applicant-pool increase include Yale University, up 12 percent, and Dartmouth College, up 13 percent. Harvard, comparatively, saw a 6 percent increase, though its applicant pool, almost 21,000, is over twice that of the College.
Within the Chicago's applicant pool, the largest regional increase--23 percent--came from international students and students studying abroad, said Ted O'Neill, dean of admissions for the College.
In terms of academic strength, this year's applicant pool saw a 34 percent increase in the number of students who scored between 1500 and 1600 on the SAT, O'Neill said, noting that his office had not yet calculated the middle 50 percentile range.
"The obvious difference, and about the only one we can be sure of as we approach the half-way point in our reading, is that the applicant group is bigger and are better standardized test takers," O'Neill said. "That being the case, we can assume that the new class will be statistically very impressive."
Stressing that the admissions office was continuing its tradition of piecing together a diverse incoming class, O'Neill reiterated his commitment to the belief that race should be allowed as a consideration in college admissions.
"We're always reflecting on our policies. As for reconsidering anything we do, we have always--and will always, as long as we are permitted--made individual assessments of all students," O'Neill said, making a passing reference to the possibility that affirmative action may be outlawed by a pending Supreme Court hearing.
Discussion over the validity of affirmative action resurfaced in January when President Bush publicly announced his support of legal suits against the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies. Calling it a quota system, Bush attacked the school's policy of awarding minority applicants a predetermined number of points--within the context of a point-system of admission.
The move brought into question the 1978 Bakke case, the landmark Supreme Court decision that made lawful the consideration of race as a factor in university admissions. While Bush's opposition applied to the University of Michigan's "point" system and not necessarily to affirmative action on a person-by-person basis, it is unclear to what extent--if any--the Supreme Court will change its ruling.
To O'Neill, firm in his support of affirmative action, the College does not need to reconsider its view unless a dramatic ruling changes the face of admissions.
"[Bush] says he is against the system of quotas, but the fact that he supports the value of diversity in a student body suggests that he is in agreement with the Bakke system," O'Neill said. "It's hard to know what he really means. We'll find out in the Supreme Court's ruling."
For prospective students, affirmative action is a relevant issue.
Miles Link, a high school junior from Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, said he worries about how affirmative action will affect his chances for admission to college. "It plays in the back of my mind sometimes," he said. "It's a real issue."
Link, sitting with his father in the College's admissions office, was visiting the University to consider if he would like to apply here. Link wants a top school in a city, and is also considering universities in Boston and New York. Interested in studio art, history and English, Link is taking into consideration the strength of colleges' art and history programs.
"I've walked around other places but I haven't gone on tours, spoken to people, and really gotten a feel for the schools," Link said. "It's important for me to have a good look at the classes too."
Link takes a qualified position on affirmative action; he says the system is flawed but serves the crucial purpose of giving opportunities to those who grew up in difficult circumstances. "For now it seems like it's here to stay," Link said. "The real answer would be to not strike it down completely--that wouldn't be fair to everyone."
As for the University of Michigan practices, Link considers them unacceptably flawed. "It's a hasty generalization," he said. "Sometimes it holds up, but it seems like a blanket statement."