University News

Application numbers soar, admit rate drops

By
Sunday, May 30, 2010

As applications for Brown’s class of 2014 poured in, the Admissions Office overflowed with paper — literally. With a flood of application papers that exceeded the office’s capacity, Alumnae Hall had to be temporarily transformed into a holding area for the huge stacks of prospective talent.

The task facing the admissions office was, for Brown, unheard of. Once admissions officers had read through the over 30,000 applications — 20.6 percent more than the previous year — acceptance letters were sent to only 9.6 percent of applicants, making this Brown’s most selective freshman class to date. 

Many of Brown’s peer institutions experienced similar surges. In the past three years or so, colleges everywhere have been reporting record-breaking application numbers. Every Ivy League school except Yale broke its record for most applications, though only Princeton approached Brown’s percentage surge. For the first time, a majority of Ivies posted single-digit acceptance rates.

According to Dean of Admission Jim Miller ’73, it took Brown 215 years to reach 10,000 applications. It took nearly a decade to double that total. And the last 10,000 applications have come in just the past two years. He partly attributes this recent rise in applicants to the economy, which he says has caused many prospective students and parents to partake in a “flight to quality” in education.

With job markets as fiercely competitive as ever, many parents may continue to view the Brown degree as a worthy investment — albeit a pricey one.

A notable aspect of the recent surge is not only the number of students, but where they come from. Thanks to recruitment efforts targeting first-generation and international students, the class of 2014 will include many more students from populations underrepresented at Brown, Miller says. Thirty-five percent of the accepted students this year qualify as students of color, the most ever, he said. Credit is due in large part to the implementation of a need-blind admissions process by President  Ruth Simmons in 2002, Miller says.

Whether Brown will be able to convince these accepted students to actually matriculate is another story. Along with the steady rise in applications, the University has experienced a congruent decline in its yield rate, the measure of how many accepted students choose Brown over other options. This trend has not been entirely unique to Brown — as graduating seniors are applying to a larger number of schools, yield rates nationwide have decreased. Miller said he hopes Brown, with its increased selectivity and efforts toward building international visibility, can become more competitive with schools such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

An unfortunate by-product of a large pile of applications is a large pile of rejection letters. One can only wonder how many members of the class of 2010 would still stand a chance in today’s intensely competitive pool. But while high selectivity always leads to the regrettable rejection of hundreds of worthy students, Miller thinks because of the added attention to recruiting students from underrepresented backgrounds, the selection process allows the school to choose not only the most talented, but also the most diverse class possible.

Miller said he is hesitant to make predictions about future numbers, but he wouldn’t bet on a decline in applications. And since all applications will be processed electronically starting next year, there should be no need for the Admissions Office to take over Alumnae Hall again.

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