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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

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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