Applications skyrocket 20 percent

Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Brown’s admission office was inundated by “just north of” 30,000 undergraduate regular and early decision applications this January, according to Dean of Admission Jim Miller ’73. This represents about a 20 percent increase in total applicants from last year and almost a 50 percent increase over the last two years, he added.

The surge in applications exceeded the processing capacity of the Admission Office’s building and forced the opening of a satellite facility in Alumnae Hall.

“We got buried,” Miller said.

Miller said it was difficult to attribute the massive increase to any one cause. He said he believes Brown has raised its national profile with initiatives like the Plan for Academic Enrichment and increased availability of financial aid, as well as the advancements of specific fields at Brown like neuroscience and environmental science.

Miller also pointed to the cumulative effect of various positive impressions of Brown in the media and on college research Web sites. The large volume and variety of information available about universities — from sources such as publications and Web sites that rank universities — has had a “very positive” effect, though it is “hard to quantify,” he said.

The Admission Office also increased targeted recruiting this year, especially in areas “that were not traditional feeder areas for us,” Miller said. They focused on areas that had more ethnic diversity and first-generation college students, resulting in a 40 percent increase in applications from first-generation college students, a 40 percent increase in Latino applications and a 45 percent increase in African-American applications — which have doubled in the last two years, he said. 

International applications are also up about 23 percent, Miller said.

Not all of Brown’s peer institutions saw similar increases in application numbers. According to a Jan. 22 article in Business Week, Princeton had a 19 percent increase in applications, while Harvard and Cornell’s numbers rose by only 5 percent, and Yale’s dropped by less than 1 percent. “It’s funny because there’s no pattern across the country,” Miller said.

Though these schools are similar to Brown in many ways, he said, something seems to have set the University apart.

The move to Alumnae Hall will be a one-time occurrence. Volume will not be a problem in the future because applications will be stored and read in electronic form next year, instead of the current method of printing applications out to read them, Miller added.

When the admission office was reconstructed seven years ago, Miller said, it was built to hold 25,000 applications each year. At the time, the University believed it would be large enough, but the unexpected increase in applications over the last several years meant the space was too small, he said.

The sorted applications were just moved back into the Admission Office, where 19 full-time readers and “a bunch” of part-time readers will have to make it through tens of thousands of applications by April 1, when admission decisions are released, Miller said.

“It’s a challenge” and “a labor-intensive process,” he said. In his years working in admissions, Miller said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this kind of quality or numbers.”

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