Amid a year of tumultuous change, wrenching employment cuts, and damaged finances, the story in admissions this year may be just how little has changed.
Two years ago, three elite schools – Harvard University, Princeton University, and the University of Virginia – cancelled their early admission programs, leading to intense speculation about the effects these eliminations would have in the following years. Since then, Stanford University and Yale University have significantly slashed their early admissions acceptance rate, though the trend seems to have stabilized this year.
Stanford accepted 753 early admission students to the Class of 2014, among a pool of 5,566 applications. According to Stanford’s News Service, the number of applications for early admission is the largest in university history, surpassing last year’s record by 203 applicants. Despite more applications, the acceptance rate rose to 13.5% this year, from 12.8% for the Class of 2013. These numbers compare to the school’s 16.1% early admit rate for the Class of 2011 – the last class in which Harvard, Princeton, and Virginia offered early admission programs.
Roughly stable trends were noted at peer schools as well. Yale received fewer early applications this year than last year’s pool, an aberration for a school that has consistently increased the size of its early applicant pool. The university increased its early admit rate from 13.4% to 13.9% this year, with 730 students admitted from a pool of 5,261.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology edged by Stanford in total early applicants, receiving 5,684 applications. The school accepted just 590 students, leading to a record low admit rate of 10.4%. While MIT received slightly more applicants, the school’s target student body is noticeably smaller at 1070, compared to Stanford’s traditional target of 1650-1700.
Admissions at MIT is being watched closely this year due to an innovative application that requires three shorter essays instead of the classic extended admissions essay. According to MIT Admissions Dean Stu Schmill in an interview with Inside Higher Ed, shorter essays lead to more direct answers that provide better information on a candidate. The new essays do not seem to have affected early admissions, but the new structure may lead to a larger change in the regular decision pool.
An exception to the minor variations this year occurred at Duke University, which saw its early admit pool spike by 31%. Notably, Duke uses an early decision program, requiring applicants to attend the university if admitted. Christopher Guttentag, head of admissions for Duke attributed the increase to better financial aid programs in a time of economic recession, according to a press release.
With early admissions completed, attention now turns to the number of total applicants to Stanford this year. Unlike in past years where announcements from Stanford on financial aid and other programs may have driven part of the increasing applicant pool, this year the variation may very well depend upon the choices that other schools are making.
Just two months ago, the University of California system voted to increase tuition by 32% to cover declining revenue and endowment losses. The announcement came too late for students considering early action, but the dramatic increase in tuition crystallizes an on-going dilemma for public schools: how to maintain access in an environment of higher costs. Whether the increasing costs for UC students will lead to an increase in applications to California-based Stanford is unclear.
With regular admission deadlines just passing, the march of the admissions calendar continues toward building the class of 2014. For Stanford and several hundred students around the world though, December provided some happy news in an otherwise dreary year.