Monday, January 25, 2010

It's Not Just Who Gets In, But How Many...Part II

Since the last time I posted, things have really exploded here at the University of San Diego - application-wise.  While we were expecting to be ahead in applications by about 5 - 7%, in reality we are currently 12% ahead of where we were last year at this time, and well on our way to reaching 12,000 applications!  With our goal of enrolling 1140 new freshman, we have some difficult decisions to make (and lots of them!).

In my last posting I talked about the art and science behind how many students an institution must take in order to enroll their class.  With the increase in applications that we - and many others - are seeing in this admissions cycle, this decision about how many to take becomes an even more difficult task.  Clearly, students are applying to lots of schools, not sure of where they might get in, what the public colleges may do with regard to enrollment, or how finances might affect their final choice.  All very legitimate concerns.  What these increased application numbers do is actually make the process harder for everyone to predict.

As my staff reviews these applications- and as I mentioned in an earlier post, they take great care to consider all the material a student submits - they are of course looking for academic achievement in the classroom first and foremost.  Some of our decisions are relatively easy, in that there are many students with exceptional academic records applying to USD.  Some of our decisions, unfortunately, are relatively easy for the opposite reason.  We have some students who apply who are academically not prepared to handle the rigors of our curriculum.  But as we make our way through this mountainous pile of applications, there are many, many applications that are not so obvious.  Here's where the "admission's math" of how many to take meets the individual stories and accomplishments of our applicants.

Our staff and many across the country are truly impressed with so many of our young people who are applying to college.  They balance strong academic programs with impressive extracurricular activities, are committed to making a difference in the world through service, and are involved in their schools and communities.  Many of them do this while dealing with incredible personal issues - family, illness, and death - any number of things that have a huge impact on their lives.  As we read these files, we can't help but be impressed and in many cases inspired. 

I mentioned last week our institutional priorities that we seek to consider in our admission decisions.  Enrolling a diverse class, filling or restricting certain majors, or having more out-of-state students, for example, are among the priorities that many colleges bring to the admissions process.  As we read applications, we look to find students who will not only contribute to these priorities, but who will also most likely benefit from our programs and faculty. 

So our admitted student pool begins to be filled with those who have the strongest academic credentials, those who most match our institutional priorities, those who we think will bring unique talents and gifts to our campus, and those we think will most benefit from what we have to offer.  There are also those incredibly inspiring stories that we want to find room for, and students the staff have worked with for months and months during the recruitment process.  As you can perhaps begin to imagine, the pool starts to fill up awfully quickly.

So how do we know when to stop admitting?  I mentioned last time we try and estimate how many of our admitted students will take us up on our offer.  This math depends on the type of students we have in our respective "pools".  Stronger academic students may "yield" at a lower rate - they have the most options and often receive the most financial incentive through merit scholarships.  At some institutions, distance may play a factor in yield - the further away from campus, the less likely they are to enroll.  At others, certain majors yield higher or lower, etc.  We take our applicant pool and measure its relative strength, its composition, the historic yields of all those groups, and arrive at a number, or more likely a range.  This represents how many we can take.

Then the really hard decisions get made.  Depending on how that math works out, we may not be able to find a place for all of those inspiring stories.  Students we have come to know through the process and feel would be a great fit may end up on the wait list.  In the end, ideally, we end up with a group of young men and women who are a blend of all these, but what we also end up with is another group of equally impressive young men and women who are left out (or on the wait list, which results in much the same feeling).

Some of our early action students have already experienced this "math" in action, unfortunately.  I hope I have conveyed that while enrollment managers talk about this in terms of numbers, it is in fact a highly personal - and sometimes painful - process of making choices.  The more selective the school, the more difficult those choices become.

My next topic will be to talk about some of the issues surrounding financial aid and the extent that universities help families with the cost of attendance.  This will be timely as the deadline for completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is coming up for many of us (March 2 in our case).  Again, feel free to let me know if you have questions or comments, or even suggestions for additional blogs.  Good luck to you all and now it's back to reading - and deciding.




Ian said...

Hey Steve,

I'm a highschool student who recently applied to USD. I look foward to reading your Blogs. Every one of them has valuable insight on the college admissions process. You mention contacting you in all of your blogs, but you never list an e-mail adress. What is the best way to communicate with you?

Thanks for your time and the intresting Blogs!


SPultz said...

Thanks Ian. Sorry, I guess being new to blogging I thought my email was somehow visible. I got your comment through my email which is Good luck, and thanks again for your feedback.