For most colleges and universities in the US, being able to brag about the doubling of admissions applications from year to year seems like a good thing. After all, to high school students and their parents who are out there trying to compare colleges it can make one school look more desirable over another knowing such statistics. However, for one small Philadelphia-area liberal arts college, they rejoiced when their admissions pool took a significant hit.
Strange as it may seem, Ursinus College didn’t panic after hearing their applicants for this fall’s freshman class dropped by almost a third from last year. In fact, the Vice President of Enrollment, Richard DiFeliciantonio, welcomed this change with open arms. You might be scratching your head thinking why any admissions office would be happy about such a thing. Wouldn’t that mean prospective college students were losing interest in the school?
According to DiFeliciantonio, “People count anything that moves as an application. Everyone is going up 10 percent every year for 20 years. It’s absurd. […] At some point the credibility of those numbers is questionable.” The fact of the matter is that for a small school like Ursinus, playing the numbers game often works to their disadvantage. After hiring a direct marketing firm to boost their admissions applications they found that their yield, the number of accepted students who actually enroll, fell dramatically from 30% in 2005 to 13.5% in 2010.
Ultimately Ursinus decided to end their relationship with last spring the marketing firm that asked them to remove essay questions and waiving the application fee for prospective students. Lowering the bar to enter the admissions process created an influx of applicants that didn’t necessarily care about attending the school and were just trying to cast a wide net for college acceptances. The proof? Almost 87% of the students that were offered admission didn’t enroll.
At a small liberal arts school where the freshman class size is just under 550, the focus should be on quality, not quantity. Ursinus recognized this and brought back the essay requirement. They even added a mandatory submission of a graded term paper to their application process.
So what does this mean for high school students and their parents researching schools? It means you shouldn’t be swayed by the applicant numbers. Just because one school may seem like a popular choice, or have a very easy application process, doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for you.