Top-tier colleges become more selective

Nathalie Tadena

As more students applied to more selective schools, many top-tier universities, including NU, accepted a smaller percentage of applicants than in previous years.

Northwestern saw a 12 percent increase in the number of applicants this year, but only accepted 25 percent, compared to last year’s 26 percent admissions rate. Seven out of the eight Ivy League universities as well as many liberal arts colleges also cited record-low acceptance rates.

Admissions representatives attribute increasing selectivity to demographics – more than 3.3 million students will graduate from high school this year, the largest class in 20 years.

“All bets are off this year,” said James Bock, dean of admissions at Swarthmore College. “It was an unpredictable year in terms of the sheer volume of applications.”

Changes in financial aid policies might have led some students to apply to more expensive colleges as well.

“We attribute the increase in selectivity to changes in our financial aid policies,” said Genevieve Haas, a public relations officer at Dartmouth College. Dartmouth announced this year it would offer a no-loan financial aid policy and would also offer full tuition for students from families who make below $75,000 a year, Haas said.

Other schools also announced major financial aid policies this year: NU announced in February it would offer more grants in place of student loans, and both Harvard and Yale announced plans to use endowment funds to increase financial aid packages for middle-class students based on a sliding scale.

Many colleges and universities, including NU, accepted more students than last year, but do not expect to increase the size of their freshman class sizes.

This year’s enrollment yield is harder to predict because some schools removed early admissions programs. More schools have begun using the Common Application, allowing students to apply to a larger number of schools more easily, Bock said.

Roughly 1,500 students who would have been accepted early to Harvard or Princeton, both schools that eliminated their early admissions programs, are now applying to 10 to 12 other schools during the regular decision period, he said.

Demographers expect the growing number of 18-year-olds to peak in 2009 and decline until at least 2015.

“A lot of the people who don’t get admitted to Pomona are still very qualified for the school,” said Carter Delloro, an admissions officer at Pomona College. “There are very strong applicants, we just have to draw much finer distinctions at this point.”

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