Applications to the University reached an all-time high for the class of 2025, exceeding last year’s total by nearly 10,000 students, Dean of Admission Logan Powell told The Herald.
Before the Jan. 5 deadline, 46,469 applicants — from both the early and regular decision pools — applied to the University, a 26 percent increase from the 36,592 applicants to the class of 2024, according to Powell. 5,540 applied early decision, while the remaining 40,929 applied in the non-binding regular decision pool. The total also eclipses the previous record of 38,674 applicants for the class of 2023.
Powell attributed the sharp jump to the many changes to the application process that stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said that the unpredictability of admissions decisions this season possibly led students to apply to more schools in an effort to bolster their chances of being accepted. Students who could not take a standardized test, Powell noted, also had additional uncertainty in their process and may have cast a wider net that included the University, which maintained a test-optional policy this cycle.
Perhaps the most notable factor in students’ decisions to apply to more schools was the fact that many students had not gotten a chance to visit college campuses since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Powell.
“They aren’t able to load everyone in the station wagon, drive everyone from one college to another university,” Powell said, speculating that students applied to more expansive lists than normal, hoping to form decisive opinions in the spring about the schools that offered them admission.
The University’s 26 percent increase in applicants surpassed that of the Common Application, which saw an overall 8 percent increase in applicants using the platform, Powell said.
Faced with less certainty, applicants may have emphasized school reputations and financial security.
“We are affordable in ways that not many colleges and universities can claim,” Powell said, pointing to the University’s fee waivers and the lack of loans in its financial aid packages that meet full demonstrated need, through the Brown Promise.
Sara Harberson, a private college counselor and the former dean of admissions at Franklin and Marshall College, echoed much of what Powell theorized led to the increase. Schools across the country saw “widespread application increases across the board,” Harberson wrote in an email to The Herald.
Test-optional policies, Harberson wrote, “seemed to embolden students to apply to colleges they never would have applied to” — and without the “gut check” of visiting a school, students were “afraid to remove colleges from their list.”
Key trends largely mirrored applications to the Class of 2024 — the same proportion of students, 47 percent, identified as students of color, while 67 percent of applicants applied for financial aid, down a few percentage points from last year’s applicant class.
The geographic composition of the pool was also similar to the make-up of last year’s applicant pool. Nineteen percent of applicants are international students — a one percent increase from last year — and applicants from the South again led the United States, with 17 percent of the pool coming from the Gulf Coast, including Florida and Georgia. California made up the next-largest bloc, with 14 percent of applicants.
Eight percent of the pool also applied to the University’s Program in Liberal Medical Education, while one percent applied to the Brown-RISD Dual Degree Program.
Groups that the Admission Office has previously prioritized — such as rural and small town students as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, students from Rhode Island and first-generation college students — all saw increases in applications that either approached or outpaced the overall 26 percent increase. Rural and small town applications increased by 23 percent, while applications from the state of Rhode Island went up 31 percent and applications from first-generation students rose by 34 percent.
“That’s an encouraging sign that the outreach that we as higher education professionals have done has borne some fruit,” Powell said, also noting the four percent increase in first-generation applicants nationwide.
Harberson wrote that “everything colleges did to recruit (first-generation and rural) students in the past pales to going test optional.”
“For colleges that make diversity a top priority,” she continued, “it seems like they have found their answer in a test optional policy.”
The increase in applications also came on the heels of the Admission Office’s full transition to virtual outreach: Everything from tours to high school visits went online amidst the pandemic.
“We did everything we possibly could to provide information about Brown in the application process,” Powell said. Still, there is “no substitute” to seeing students’ high school environments, Powell admitted, explaining that the Admission Office hopes to hit the road soon, likely by the 2022-2023 application cycle.
But many of the changes implemented — such as live Q-and-As or live virtual tours — might remain for future cycles. Some changes, such as virtual high school visits or virtual evening programs, likely allowed the University to reach students it previously would not have communicated with, Powell said.
The changes to the outreach and application cycle, Powell said, did not come as part of an effort to grow the applicant pool. They were instead meant to “recognize the incredible stresses that many students face, to accommodate a different environment.”
Harberson wrote that colleges might be at a tipping point in applicant pool sizes, noting that they need to take some responsibility for rapidly growing pools — and “back off how they aggressively target and recruit prospective students” — to prevent the process from becoming increasingly and unsustainably competitive.
The University still expects to admit enough students to yield an incoming class of just under 1,700, Powell said, which includes a small number of students returning from gap years that might lead the class to ever-so-slightly exceed its normal size of 1,665 students.
Applicants will receive notifications on their decisions April 6 at 7:00 P.M, the University announced, and will have until May 3 to inform the University of their decision.
Will Kubzansky is the 133rd editor-in-chief and president of the Brown Daily Herald. Previously, he served as a University News editor overseeing the admission & financial aid and staff & student labor beats. In his free time, he plays the guitar and soccer — both poorly.