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There has been much discussion recently about the University’s decision to step back from promoting statistics about admitted students, including a Reactions column this week. As Dean of Admission, I want to provide additional information and context.
First, it’s important to be clear about what we’re doing and why.
Selective institutions have long made a practice of marking the day admission decisions are released by trumpeting their low admission rates and the impressive credentials of admitted students. For the reasons detailed below, Princeton began stepping back from this approach a few years ago by no longer highlighting its admission rate or the standardized test scores of admitted students.
We took an important step this year by making the decision to no longer release an announcement about admitted students and to instead highlight the enrolled Class of 2026 — the students who will join the University community in the fall. A number of peer institutions have made similar decisions, including Stanford, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania.
Of course, we recognize that data on admissions and admitted students has value and we will continue to report it to state and federal authorities and include it in our Common Data Set. The fact that Princeton has to turn away many extremely well-qualified applicants each year – despite the coming expansion of the undergraduate class — is no secret and isn’t going to become one. The admission rate is — and will continue to be — available through sources like the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard.
But neither prospective students nor the University benefit from the admission process being boiled down in headlines to a single statistic like the admission rate.
We know from our interactions with prospective students, families, and counselors that highlighting an admission rate and framing the admissions process through a list of statistics instills anxiety and fear. We do not want to discourage prospective students from applying to Princeton because of its selectivity.
Instead, we want prospective students to consider if Princeton is the right fit — if the resources we offer, the academic opportunities we provide will allow them to flourish at our residential research university. We want students to find a place of learning wherein their own contributions will be valued. And to know that Princeton’s generous need-based financial aid program might afford them the opportunity to graduate debt-free. This is how we approach our conversations with prospective students. By stepping away from promoting statistics like the admission rate, we are signaling that selectivity is not part of our pitch.
In my blog post to the newly admitted early action group for the Class of 2026, I highlight our holistic process and the conversations my colleagues and I have around building a class. The Admission Office’s goal is to admit a diverse and dynamic group of students. We think about how students will interact with one another in the classroom and on the field, in the music practice room, and the residential college common room. We discuss how students might approach difficult circumstances, how they would interact with people with different perspectives, and how they might approach the University’s informal motto about the service of humanity. To do this, we read and discuss the essays, the letters of recommendation, interview write-ups, and any other pieces that have been shared with us.
But our work does not end on decision day, as admission statistics might suggest. With the help of our wonderful campus community, we spend the month of April officially introducing admitted students to Princeton — some for the very first time. And when we enroll the next class this summer, we will talk about their many talents as the newest members of the Princeton community.
Karen Richardson ’93 is the dean of admission at Princeton University.