Applications for early admission to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke University and Dartmouth College rose to the highest on record as students said name-brand colleges give graduates an edge in job searches.
Early applicants to MIT surged 13 percent to an unprecedented 6,405, said Stuart Schmill, admissions dean. Duke University’s total increased 13 percent to 2,260, also the most ever, said Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions. Those institutions, as well as Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, are among at least 10 nationwide where officials tell of rises in early applications.
Students for the class that will graduate in 2015 are picking a university they think will help them land higher-paying jobs than their parents now have, a concern magnified by the economy, said Darby McHugh, the college coordinator at New York City’s Bronx High School of Science.
“With the economy, college is not just a lazy, four-year undergraduate experience,” McHugh said in a telephone interview. “They’re preparing for a career.”
Richard Tuhrim, a chess-playing Bronx Science senior who applied early to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, said having Brown on his resume may help him after college to land a job involving government economic policy.
“Job security has to be something that everyone thinks about,” Tuhrim said in an interview.
While Columbia and Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, told students of their decisions last week, most colleges will inform applicants for early admission by mid-December. Dartmouth admitted 25 percent of its early applicants, according to a statement today. Students applying early to Duke will find out today and MIT plans to inform applicants on Dec. 16.
U.S. unemployment was 9.8 percent in November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, based in Washington, reported on Dec. 3. The rate may not return to the “stable” 5.5 percent level of October 2004, more than three years before the latest recession began, until late in 2014, said Marisa Di Natale, an economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The recession ended in June 2009, after 18 months, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
At Strath Haven High School in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, 23 percent of the senior class, up from 18 percent last year, applied for college under early-decision policies that require students to enroll if they gain admission, said Jeff Haviland, a college counselor at the school.
Combined with 32 percent of students applying for nonbinding early-action programs, Strath Haven had the greatest number of seniors applying early for college in Haviland’s 32 years as a counselor, he said.
“It’s like buying designer clothes,” Haviland said in a telephone interview. “Kids believe these schools are going to give them the edge for everything, for social connections, economic connections, and careers.”
Allen Kouch, a senior at Strath Haven, sought early entrance to Penn.
“I knew it was a reach to begin with,” Kouch, 17, said in a telephone interview. “Knowing I didn’t have the perfect GPA or the highest SAT scores, any chance I could have would be through early decision.”
High school seniors may be correct in thinking that applying early for college can help them get in, according to Guttentag at Duke.
“Students who are ready to make a commitment can take advantage of the preference generally given to binding early-decision applicants,” Guttentag said in an e-mail.
Duke offered admission last year to 30 percent of early applicants compared with 15 percent for students who applied later in the cycle, according to data provided by Guttentag. Duke notifies regular admissions applicants in April.
Katharine Cummings, a senior at Fieldston Upper School in New York, applied to Duke before its Nov. 1 deadline for early applications. She visited the campus in Durham, North Carolina, in April and admired its ballet program and a center to study the lemur, a type of mammal.
“If I get in, then the rest of the school year will be so much less stressful,” said Cummings, 17, who spends 20 hours a week training with the Manhattan Youth Ballet, a classical ballet academy.
Critics of the spread and growth of early college admissions say the process gives an additional edge to students from wealthier schools and families, partly because less-affluent applicants often must wait to compare financial-aid offers from multiple colleges rather than agree early to attend one.
“Early programs don’t give everybody the same chance,” Lloyd Thacker, executive director of the Portland, Oregon-based Education Conservancy, a nonprofit group that seeks to make admissions practices more equitable, said in a telephone interview. “We already know there are many disadvantages and advantages built in related to where students are on the socio-economic ladder.”
Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville said four years ago that they would drop early-admission programs, citing concerns the process wasn’t fair to students from lower-income families. At the time, early offers of admission were nonbinding at Harvard, and binding at Princeton and the University of Virginia.
Now in its fourth year without any kind of early admissions, Virginia is changing its policy for next year to allow students to apply for nonbinding early admission. That’s because the college was losing applicants to competitors with early programs, and because some high-school students prefer to apply early, Greg Roberts, dean of admission, said in a telephone interview.
While Harvard hasn’t reinstated early admissions, William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid, said in a statement last month that officials will “continue to evaluate the elimination of early admission on a regular basis.”
At Princeton, “moving to a single-admission process has made the application process more equitable, which was the intended goal,” Janet Rapelye, dean of admission, said in a statement last month. “Princeton’s commitment to ending early decision has not changed.”
An estimated 2.2 million U.S. students entered college in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s most recent statistics.
Aware that the economy is on students’ and parents’ minds, marketing materials from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, are emphasizing opportunities that can augment a resume, said Christopher Watson, dean of undergraduate admission. One example is the chance to earn a certificate from the Kellogg School of Management while still an undergraduate.
“In this economy, students and their families are thinking more and more about the value of the degree they’ll be getting,” Watson said in an interview. “We are trying promote internships and job opportunities and outside-the-classroom experience that grad schools and employers want to see that you’ve had.”
Early applications to Northwestern increased 26 percent from a year earlier to 2,127, according to the university.
Applications for nonbinding early admission to MIT in Cambridge surged as high-school seniors deem the education the university offers as preparation for what companies seek in this economy, especially in technical fields, Schmill said in a telephone interview.
Six of the eight members of the Ivy League of elite colleges in the northeastern U.S. offer a form of early notification. Four had increases in the number of students applying early, their officials said.
The University of Pennsylvania had the largest percentage increase of the Ivy group, 19 percent. The institution received 4,571 early applications, Eric J. Furda, dean of admissions, said in an e-mail.
Yale University’s total rose by 7 early applications, or less than 1 percentage point, to 5,268, according to figures provided by Jeffrey Brenzel, dean of undergraduate admissions.
Yale, in New Haven, Connecticut, is the only Ivy League college with a nonbinding program. At Yale, applicants find out in December if they have an offer, and, in the event they get one, don’t have to decide until May whether to accept it.
Early applications at Dartmouth, in Hanover, New Hampshire, increased 12 percent to 1,759, Latarsha R. Gatlin, of the college, said today in an e-mail. The total at Columbia in New York rose 7.8 percent to 3,217, Robert Hornsby, a university spokesman, said in an e-mail.
Not all colleges say early applications have risen. At Cornell, the number declined 3.8 percent to 3,456, Claudia Wheatley, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
Early applications at Brown fell 2.5 percent to 2,777, said James Miller, dean of admission. Brown received about 30,000 total applications last year, and Miller doesn’t see the decline in early applications as an indicator, he said in a telephone interview.
“It’s a hiccup,” Miller said.