Alan Leonard stood in line with a stuffed folder in hand yesterday, waiting to talk to one of several admissions counselors behind a desk covered with dozens of papers stacks. Leonard is one of over 350 prospective students on campus this week.
?I had some friends who had come here,? said Leonard, a native of Washington, D.C. ?I was one of a small crowd of kids in my school that actually liked to read books once in a while. My friends said if I like to actually think that I should check this place out.?
With two prospective student overnights and an admitted senior open house scheduled for this month, the University could conceivably draw anywhere from 20 to 25 percent of those admitted to the class of 2007. These events are part of the University?s larger strategy to raise both the caliber and quantity of its student population.
The University has managed to increase applications considerably in the past five years. 9,120 students applied this year, a 12 percent increase from the previous year and 3,600 more applicants than in 1998.
The rise in applicants eventually resulted in a lower acceptance rate and more impressive statistics such as S.A.T. scores and class rankings. The University accepted 39 percent of its applicants this year?yielding an acceptance rate down more than 20 percent from five years ago. Over the same five-year period, applicants S.A.T. scores rose 55 points and the number of applicants in the top 5 percent of their class, 35 percent.
The mean S.A.T. score for those accepted this year is 1432, and 69.7 percent of applicants will graduate in the top 5 percent of their high school class.
Although applications to top-tier universities increased nation-wide, Chicago?s boost is well ahead of the national curve. Harvard?s applicant pool rose 6.4 percent this year and Brown?s 2.3.
?The trick now is to convert them [accepted applicants] into enrollments,? said Don Randel, president of the University. ?Students and faculty are currently in the process of calling people and several other things of that sort to try to see that it happens.?
Randel attributed the rise in applications of the past five years to the admissions department?s commitment to reach potential students, maintaining that the overriding character of the University has not changed.
?Many young people would want to be at a place just like this if they knew it existed,? he said.
The admissions department has been distributing a larger amount of perspective student information about the University?s mission than in the past, and has even hired a professional publication firm to help them.
?In a time when more information is readily available to a wide range of people, such as the internet, television, the amount of print that is out there, it is important for Chicago to look good in these terms,? said Ted O?Neill, dean of admissions for the College. ?We need to get the word out.?
The University has almost done too good of a job attracting new applicants, admissions officials noted, explaining that the size of the admissions staff has not grown proportionally to the rising applicant pool. In recent years, the same number of officers has had to read many more applications for roughly the same amount of spots, making the process longer and more arduous.
?We?re starting to get a little overwhelmed,? said Zach White, assistant director of admissions for the College. ?We starting to reach a threshold where we really need more people.?
Instead of increasing manpower, however, the admissions office has tried to rely on new technology to make the larger number of applicants more manageable.
?We are using the internet more and more, including online registration for prospective students. It has saved us a ton on time,? White said. ?We are trying to streamline the whole process so we can get in touch with students earlier and they don?t have to wait in line as long when they get here.?
The University is also in the process of designing a Web site for the Prospective Student Advisory Committee (PSAC) that will encourage current students to get involved in recruitment and allow prospective students to customize their experience.
?We will eventually be able to match prospies with hosts based on geographical area or high schools,? White said. ?We want to spend more time paying attention to students.?
Yesterday, prospective students had the opportunity to attend regular undergraduate classes alongside current University students. While most of the classes are open to all prospective students, classes that are particularly difficult?such as mechanical physics and advanced algebra?were reserved for students with an appropriate academic background. The University also held several panel discussions for both prospective students and their parents about a number of issues ranging from financial aid to religion on campus.
In the evening, prospective students attended a student activities fair in Hutchinson Commons, followed by a sampling of food from Hyde Park restaurants and live performances from Off-Off Campus, Occam?s Razor, and a number of student a capella groups.
Students must accept their offer for admission by May 1.