The University received a record-breaking 12,026 applications for the class of 2020 this year, representing a 22 percent increase compared with the size of last year’s applicant pool. Previously, the record holder for highest volume of candidates was the class of 2017. The pool from this admissions season surpassed the record by a margin of 10 percent.
Though the increase is believed to be due in part by the implementation of a test-optional policy, factors such as recruitment tactics and online campaigns help put the University on both national and international radars. Still, 28 percent of students this year elected not to send test scores, which signifies a 4 percent increase from the number who made a similar decision last year when the policy was first in effect. In addition, the Office of Admission no longer asks for a supplemental essay, a requirement implemented for two years after the restructuring of the Common Application.
Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Nancy Meislahn believes that although the new test policy and the lack of an additional essay may be related to the jump in size of this year’s pool of applicants, it is just one of many reasons for the increased interest in and awareness of the University.
“The work that we do is so cumulative, so it would be highly unusual to say ‘We did this, and this is the exact result,’” Meislahn said. “We believe that some of the increase is related to our change in the score policy…. The evidence for that is the fact that the increase in applicants who chose not to have scores…is greater than the increase than those that didn’t. Certainly, that’s a piece of the puzzle. It doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination account for the whole increase.”
In recent years, the Office of Admission has been active on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Google Hangout, in addition to having a presence on the college search website Cappex and the education advancement company Hobsons, which is also the company that owns Naviance. Meislahn emphasized that establishing an identity in as many online spheres as possible is very important in gaining worldwide recognition and recruiting potential applicants.
“This is the second time in 10 years that we’ve had this kind of significant increase,” Meislahn said. “If you take that long view, our pattern has been a series of small increases and then a bigger increase. Then typically after that there’s what I call a market correction with a decline, or dropping back in one year, because at some point you lose the bottom of your pool…but usually that’s after a series of increases.”
Not only has the Office of Admission built a strong digital community, but it has also improved its more old-fashioned ways of marketing the University, namely with pamphlets and other printed publications. Meislahn commented on the significance of this recruitment style, though it lacks the rapid diffusion that is advantageous with Internet platforms.
“For most students, the college search process is an 18- to 24-month cycle,” Meislahn said. “In that time period, we’ve done a lot. In the last two years, we’ve completely redone the admissions publications and the series won the CASE [Circle of Excellence] silver award for admissions marketing a year ago. We also had a five percent increase in applications last year…so it’s that building momentum. In addition, we really felt at the end of the last cycle for the class of 2019…that the word hadn’t completely gotten out about our change in test policy.”
The University’s online presence is particularly useful for students who do not have the opportunity to visit campus before making a decision, which is often the case with students applying from outside the United States. To accommodate the needs of student applicants from abroad, the Office of Admission offers Skype sessions and interviews through the third party service InitialView in an effort to bring the University campus to wherever in the world a given applicant may be.
Meislahn also mentioned that applications from Asia and Europe are consistently on the rise as the Office of Admission establishes a presence in these regions. The Freeman Asian Scholars Program provides opportunities specifically for applicants from the Pacific Rim, with China and Korea sending large numbers of students to the United States to study each year. The University has also invested in recruitment campaigns in India, and its success is evident in the 44 percent increase of Indian applicants this year.
Meislahn added that gains in applications from Europe can likely be attributed to the tracked nature of the system of higher education in both the European Union and the United Kingdom and the growing desire of certain students to pursue degrees in the liberal arts. There is a growing belief that the higher price tag of attending schools in the United States possesses some inherent value.
In addition to reaching members of the international community, University President Michael Roth emphasized the University’s continued effort to recruit a more diverse array of students from the United States, most notably students of color and those coming from low-income or first-generation families.
“We have been making more of an effort to increase our number of applications from parts of the country where we’re less well known and to increase the number of applications from low-income and first-generation families and from families that are from underrepresented groups,” Roth said. “We’ve been trying that for years though, so I think that these efforts are starting to pay off in a bigger way. Last year, we also had a modest increase, so I think that it may be a combination of factors.”
Though the University is constantly seeking to represent individuals of as many races, ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds as possible, it is not looking to augment class sizes anytime in the near future.
“I want to see many more people saying, ‘That’s a great place, I’d love to go there,’ because that’s a sign that your diploma will be more valuable when you graduate,” Roth said. “We don’t have plans to expand the size of the student body, but we do want to keep the growth in the applications going as a sign that more people know about the University and think of it as a strong place and that will add value to the diploma of everybody who [has] graduated.”
However, Roth stressed that such an endeavor is not a guarantor of success and that the University must take an active role in establishing inclusion in its diverse community.
“That effort to make the campus a more diverse place is something that’s very important to us,” Roth said. “As you’ve been seeing this year and in past years too, getting a diverse campus is only part of the agenda; you then have to have an inclusive campus, which is certainly…more challenging. So how do you both respect difference and have inclusion? That’s something that’s an ongoing project.”
Early Decision II results were released last Friday, while Regular Decision applicants will be notified of their decision on March 25.