On first glance, the Office of College Admissions does not appear to be busy. It's not teeming with high school juniors awaiting campus tours and seniors anxiously waiting for interviews.
But the admissions officers, who are sitting down to read thousands of applications over the next few months, beg to differ. While the statistics for the regular notification applicant pool are not yet finalizedthe deadline for regular notification applications was January 1officers point to the results of the second-largest Early Action applicant pool in College history as a positive indication of what is to come.
The office saw 2472 early applications stream in through mail crates and via the Internet, an increase of two percent from last year's 2420 early application pool. This was a relief for the office, since last year's early pool was substantially lower than previous years.
"It's nice to recover a little bit," said Ted O'Neill, the dean of college admissions. "We lost a number of applications last year after a number of years of steady increase, but now we've bounced back."
O'Neill said that last year's decrease in both early and regular applications was expected based on changes in the admissions plans of other top schools such as Yale, Stanford, and Harvard. All of these universities switched to a single-choice Early Action plan last year, presumably taking applicants away from the University of Chicago's non-binding Early Action pool.
The Office of College Admissions has noticed an attitude shift in those applying early. "The important thing to us is that the people who are applying early seem to understand better their reasons for wanting to come to Chicago," O'Neill said. "We see that in the applicants' essays and what their teachers are writing about them in recommendations."
O'Neill said that applicants seem more interested than previous classes in wanting to invest their college years receiving a rigorous liberal arts education. This change in mind-set, he said, can be attributed to the students reading the material that the Office of Admissions sends out more thoroughly than in previous years, an element of the fact that more students are doing better research into colleges.
O'Neill also pointed to changes in the minority applicant pool. "Early indications proved to pan out for African-American applicants, and there was a nice increase in both applicants and admits," O'Neill said. Meanwhile, there was a drop in Latino applications, and subsequently fewer Latino students were accepted early.
New steps have been taken to encourage students of color to apply to the University. This year the Office of College Admissions, working in conjunction with the Prospective Students Advisory Committee (PSAC), made a concerted effort to have current Chicago students call all students of color who had submitted the first part of their application and encourage them to complete the application.
The phone-a-thon method of contacting minority applicants was initiated by PSAC's Committee for Minority Recruitment, which has been active since the beginning of last year. "We do special searches, send out special mailings, and make special attempts to reach out to students of color, especially in the April open house programs," O'Neill said.
To further the University's relationship with Chicago public schools, Norma Lopez, the new associate director for Student of Color Recruitment, has been working in concert with the Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA) to visit Chicago public schools. "We will be doing more visiting to Chicago public schools in the fall to see interested seniors, partly because of our interest in the city of Chicago and partly because of our interest in students of color," O'Neill said.
More emphasis has been placed on attracting international students. This fall, international student recruiter Alison Segal went on an extensive recruiting trip to Africa. Though the results of that trip were not seen in this year's early applicant pool, it served as preliminary work for branching out to an area from which the University receives few applications.
One question that always remains is how to convince prospective students of the fact that, contrary to popular belief, fun does not come to die at the University. "We have always tried to convey why it's great to be a young student here involved in typical college activities," O'Neill said. "Sometimes people are ready to listen and sometimes they're not. Now students increasingly seem ready to believe it."
O'Neill explained that the Office of Admissions plays with the idea of the University as a place where fun comes to die, as it is largely understood to be a joke and, according to O'Neill, "a lot of people out there are in on the joke."
Regular applications will be read over the next few months and decisions will be mailed by late March.