University sees 3.3 percent increase in applications
While this is a 3.3 percent rise from the 26,247 applications received last year, the increase is significantly lower than those of some of the University’s peer institutions. However, the University remains optimistic about its applicant pool.
“We certainly are delighted to have more than 27,000 applications for the first time,” Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye said. “We have watched the applicant pool grow the last seven years. As we get into reviewing them, I think what we are finding is that quality is very high, which is a cause for celebration.”
Still, the 3 percent increase in the applicant pool ties Princeton with Brown for the smallest growth in applicant numbers within the Ivy League.
Columbia reported a record 34,587 applications for a 32 percent increase over last year’s applicant pool. Harvard, which already has the lowest acceptance rate in the Ivy League, reported over 35,000 applicants for a 15 percent increase over last year’s numbers. The University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth reported similar jumps, with increases of 17 and 17.9 percent, respectively.
Yale reported only a 5 percent increase in applicants, while Cornell’s numbers are due to be released early next week.
According to Rapelye, the differences in application number growth can partially be attributed to the popularity of certain campus types among high school students.
“The trend right now is that urban is in,” she said. “While that is a popular trend, we stand up and talk about all of our strengths when we talk to our students. We are unapologetic. We have a very healthy applicant pool in terms of its size. We are exactly where we need to be.”
Princeton’s 3 percent increase is a step down from last year, when the record 26,247 applicants for the Class of 2014 represented a 19.5 percent increase over the number of applications for the Class of 2013.
There were 2.8 percent more applicants to the Class of 2013 than to the Class of 2012, and 6 percent more applications for the Class of 2012 than there were for the Class of 2011.
One of the explanations for the small growth in numbers this year may be an increased consciousness of the University’s grade deflation policy among potential applicants.
While the policy did not ultimately deter Shaan Gurnani, a senior at the Pingry School in Martinsville, NJ, from applying, he said that he worried about what grade deflation might do to his job prospects. “It sounds to me that employers over the years prefer students with higher grades,” Gurnani explained.
David Handsman, a senior at West Orange High School in West Orange, NJ, was unaware of the grade deflation policy until after he applied. While he explained that it likely wouldn’t have prevented him or other students he knew from applying and that he understood why Princeton would want to heighten its standards, he said that he did not agree with the policy.
Rapelye said that last year’s significant 19 percent increase in applications can be attributed to the Unversity’s new policy of allowing applicants to take two SAT Subject Tests instead of three, expanding the pool of potential applicants.
“We were very concerned that there were students who were applying to Princeton who had not had good college counseling, who might have only taken two subject tests,” she said.
A number of peer institutions require only two subject tests, so applicants without adequate counseling may not have been aware of Princeton’s additional requirement, she explained, adding that the addition of the writing section to the SAT also made the admission office more comfortable in reducing the subject test requirement.
Starting in 2009, Princeton applicants had the ability to use College Board’s new “Score Choice” option, which allows applicants to choose which SAT scores to send to colleges instead of providing their entire score history. Students can choose SAT scores by test date and SAT Subject Test scores by individual test.
Students’ increasing awareness of Princeton’s financial aid program has also led to the general rise in applications over the past few years, Rapelye said, a cause also cited by Harvard and Penn, according to The Harvard Crimson and The Daily Pennsylvanian.
While Princeton’s average financial aid package totals $34,804, Harvard’s totals $41,295 and Penn’s totals $33,773 according to the College Board. Princeton remains the only Ivy League institution to offer a no-loan policy to all students. However, only 56 percent of the student body at Princeton receives financial aid, in comparison to 64 percent of Harvard’s students, also according to the College Board.
This year, 74 percent of Princeton applicants indicated that they intended to apply for financial aid, a number that remains steady from last year’s pool.
David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, explained that there really are no clear-cut reasons behind increases in applications to a given school in a given year and consequently behind yield numbers.
“It really is a crapshoot from year to year from the number of applications to the yield percentages,” he said. “It’s hard to know what might be behind any institution’s effort and the overall destabilization of the process.”
Hawkins explained that factors for significant jumps can range from a university’s team winning a national championship to the school being featured in a movie.
Hawkins also explained why there may be advantages to increasing the application pool and therefore lowering the acceptance rate.
“There are trustees, influential alumni who might raise questions about the institution’s selectivity,” Hawkins said. “There are independent publications that might punish institutions for being less selective. In general, we’ve seen a push to recruit more students. Throwing all those factors into the mix can begin to explain why there was this rise in applications this year.”
But for most schools, including Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and Princeton itself, heightened recruitment efforts aim to focus on attracting a qualified and diverse pool rather than a large one. Yet recent policy changes, such as Princeton’s decision to require only two SAT Subject Tests and the move toward the Common Application and online applications among these prominent schools, tend to promote much broader potential applicant pools and consequently larger numbers. For the Class of 2015, 99 percent of Princeton applicants applied online, while only 1 percent, or around 200 students, sent in the traditional paper application.
Hawkins attributed the general rise in college applications to the increased ease of the application process facilitated by the new policies. While the application process has become easier, however, the larger pool of applicants represents a “general deepening and broadening of credentials” as well.
While many highly qualified applicants now submit more applications due to the uncertainty and competitiveness of the current admission processes, the increase in applications has fueled uncertainty within admission committees about whom to accept, Hawkins said. Hawkins explained that the number of applications will level out when it reaches “that point of diminishing return” at which it is too hard for committees to decide whom to accept. This situation will provide an impetus for colleges to lessen their active recruitment.
“At some point it will become too cumbersome to read and consider all these applications,” Haskell said.
It remains to be seen what effect the general increase in application numbers will have on Ivy League schools’ acceptance rates. Princeton plans to enroll 1,300 students in the Class of 2015 to be in line with its plans for the gradual expansion of the undergraduate population and the eventual maintenance of a stable undergraduate student size of 5,200 starting in fall 2012.
Last year, a record low of 8.18 percent of applicants were initially admitted to the Class of 2014. A total of 2,311 students were eventually offered admission — including 137 from the waitlist — resulting in an overall acceptance rate of 8.71 percent.
Senior writer Andrew Sartorius contributed reporting.