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University News

U. first choice for two-thirds of students, poll shows

Nearly 90 percent of undergraduates glad they chose Brown, while only 6 percent regret the decision

Staff Writer
Monday, April 7, 2014
This article is part of the series Spring 2014 Student Poll

Brown may deserve its widely known reputation as one of the happiest Ivies, with approximately nine in 10 undergraduates satisfied with their decision to come to the University, according to the results of a Herald poll conducted March 3-4.

Approximately two-thirds of surveyed undergrads considered Brown their first-choice college when applying, while about 26 percent said Brown was not their top choice but that they are still glad they ended up here.

“What’s most important is how people feel on their way out the door,” said Dean of Admission Jim Miller ’73, adding that though there are no similar preceding polls to contextualize the numbers, he was pleased with what he called the “overwhelmingly positive” results of the poll.

Only about 4 percent of undergrads considered Brown their first-choice college but now regret their decision to come here, while about 2 percent did not consider the University their top choice and wish they had gone somewhere else. Approximately 5 percent of respondents said they did not have a first-choice college.

Given the unpredictable nature of the college admission process, the results are encouraging and “highlight the fact that kids can be happy somewhere other than where they thought their first-choice college was,” said Michele Hernandez, a college consultant and the former assistant director of admission at Dartmouth.

The results signal the importance of the experience students actually have at a university compared with the institution’s reputation, Hernandez said, adding that Brown has “done a good job living up to the expectations that its students have.”

Hernandez said she was surprised at the high proportion of students who called Brown their top choice, adding that she would be curious to see how Brown compares to its peer institutions in this respect.

Student reactions to the poll results varied, with undergrads expressing surprise at both the high and low percentage of undergrads who considered Brown their first choice.

Jessica Tennis ’17 said she would not have expected so many undergrads to have called Brown their first-choice college.

“Not many people in my hometown have heard of Brown,” she said, adding that she comes from a “pretty conservative place,” and though Brown was not her top choice, she is glad she came here. “It’s nice to experience a place where people think differently.”

Shirley Leung ’15 said she would have predicted the high percentage of respondents who are happy with their decision to come to Brown, but she was surprised some said they wish they had gone elsewhere.

Transfer students said Brown is an attractive option because of its open curriculum and diverse student body.

“I’m kind of surprised that the percentage who considered Brown their first choice isn’t higher,” said Joonpyo Sohn ’16, a transfer student from Middlebury College, adding that many of his peers at Middlebury told him they considered Brown a great institution when he got his acceptance letter.

Sohn said he transferred to Brown because he felt limited by Middlebury’s academic requirements and lack of a diverse student body. The open curriculum was the biggest “pull factor,” he said, adding that “Brown is more accepting of diversity and more accommodating to many different types of people.”

“At Brown, you can meet people from every background,” said transfer student Min Kim ’15.5, adding that her previous community college lacked such diversity.

Richie Whitehead ’16, who considered Brown his first-choice college as a transfer student, cited the open curriculum as a factor that heavily influenced his decision to come. The distinctive academic structure gave him the freedom to pursue a degree in math and sciences while also following his interests in comedy and acting, he said.

Whitehead said Brown’s location also appealed to him. “When you’re in the city, there’s more going on,” he said.

Providence is the “best of both worlds” in terms of location, Hernandez said. It is neither too rural nor too urban, but “somewhere in between,” she said.

Students from low-income backgrounds who qualify for financial aid may be less likely to consider the University their first choice due to its financial aid policies.

Though all domestic first-year applicants are assessed on a need-blind basis, transfer, Resumed Undergraduate Education and international students are admitted under a need-aware policy. The University also lags behind some of its peers with larger endowments in providing financial aid to middle-income applicants.

Approximately 67 percent of respondents not on financial aid reported that Brown was their first choice, compared to about 59 percent of those relying on grants to cover all costs of attending the University and 48 percent of those relying on grants to cover some cost.

Whitehead said scarce financial aid was one of the main obstacles that complicated his decision to come to College Hill, adding that expanding financial aid might make the University more attractive to low-income applicants as a first-choice college.

Josh Espinoza ’14 said he considers the happiness level at Brown “50-50,” because it is more difficult for students from low-income backgrounds to feel comfortable and transition into a community that primarily includes students from high-income families.

Colleges and universities may hope to be students’ top choices because they are looking to boost their yield rates — the percentage of admitted applicants choosing to attend.

“The yield rate is very important to colleges,” Hernandez said, citing Penn, which filled 49 percent of its incoming class in this admission cycle with early decision applicants, who are required to attend if offered admission.

Universities “want kids who want the school,” and they also want to “control the yield,” Hernandez added.

But Miller said admission officers do not make the connection between the yield rate and Brown being students’ top choice.

The Office of Admission tries very hard not to put prospective students in the situation of labeling Brown a first-choice college, he said.

“We assume if students are in the applicant pool, they are interested in coming to Brown, and we assume that if we admit them they have a very good chance of coming,” he added.

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  1. Where’s John Lergan? Seems like he’d be all over this. Hopefully he gave up.

  2. johnlonergan says:


    Glad to hear that most students attending Brown are happy they are there. I went to Brown and enjoyed my undergraduate years there a great deal. I also recommend it to others.

    It seems that all that good feeling evaporates the day we become alums, however. I’ve continued to pursue my education and that of those working under me in companies large and small. I’ve spent about $300,000 on my education after leaving Brown, and authorized several million dollars of continuing educations for employees in my organizations.

    Unfortunately, Brown did not receive a penny of that. I would have loved to have considered Brown, but three factors prevented it:

    1) Brown requires people to be on campus. Many of my organizations were global–difficult to justify them leaving for Providence.
    2) Brown doesn’t offer programs that fit my employees’ needs.
    3) Brown didn’t offer me programs that met my interest. I would love to have taken online courses with professor and student support in a great many subjects–both liberal arts and technical.

    Brown’s “brand” on campus is good. The above article demonstrates that. Brown’s “brand” before admission is second-rate: Brown’s ‘yield’ rate of 59% this year compares poorly to Stanford and Harvard.

    For Brown to build its brand among students who are there for roughly 4 years, then leave, it must continue a relationship based on more than a warm alum feeling and sports activities. Brown needs to carry on a two-way educational relationship with its alums from graduation to old age. And Brown needs to charge us for the experience.

    I’ve just received a letter from Dean Nitin Nohra of Harvard Business School. She’s now started a new series of certified distance learning courses with HBS credits. Time for Brown to do the same.

    In order for us to regard Brown’s brand as “successful,” we must appeal to high school students around the world, alums interested in continuing their education, those who may never visit Providence, and those who are considering applying to Brown.

    Brown requires a thorough re-thinking of how it deals with the outside world. It must analyze a more competitive offering for millions of students of all ages. Brown’s campus walls have come down, and students, professors and administration are standing there, visible to (and accessible by) the whole world. It’s time to stop grabbing our genitals in embarrassment and decide, instead, to take advantages of the new, open world of education.

  3. johnlonergan says:

    So, back-of-the-envelope. What if Brown reduced tuition by 1/2 to all students? Two questions: where would the revenues come from to replace it, and how much could be saved? I’d appreciate any changes recommended–as these are rough numbers (the U isn’t very transparent about its finances).

    Here’s a rough estimate of how the new budget would look:

    Current budget: $925 million
    Cuts in administrative expenses: 20% of administrative costs: -$100MM
    Net budget needs $825 million

    Amount supplied by tuition/etc. $ 233
    Amount supplied by endowment $ 190 (5%)
    Government grants, contributions, other $200
    Alumni education programs $100
    High school education programs $25
    Other online education programs $100
    Total revenues: $848MM

    – total costs: $825
    = Total surplus: $23 MM

    This budget would be a total re-cast of Brown’s current budget, with the following changes:

    1) Significant reduction in tuition burdens on undergrad and graduate students
    2) Release of pressure on the $3.8 billion endowment
    3) Reduced reliance on alums as ATM machines
    4) Increased value of Brown’s “brand”
    and, last but not least:

    4) Budget in the black

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