Cornell’s summer calm ended abruptly Friday as the Class of 2004 swarmed campus. The expected 3,152-student freshman class filled dorm rooms, met with Orientation Counselors and interacted during the traditional first night. In the next few days before classes, freshman will arrange course schedules, complete swim tests and placement tests and get an all around taste of Cornell’s student performing groups at Cornell night.
The academic caliber of Cornell’s newest students is exceptionally high, according to President Hunter R. Rawlings III. Citing comparatively high SAT scores and a greater proportion of underrepresented minorities, he described the incoming class as “stronger than ever.”
Donald A. Saleh, dean of admissions and financial aid, also praised the new students’ academic credentials. “For the fourth year in a row we’ve seen composite SAT scores go up,” Saleh said, adding that there has been a “general shift upward” in all the quality indicators of the freshman class.
According to Saleh, more freshmen — 82 percent this year — are coming from the top 10 percent of their high school class.
“This is a strong indicator of Cornell’s appeal among high-ability students,” said Doris Davis, associate provost for admissions and enrollment. She stressed that the entire process grew more selective this year as the University acceptance rate fell to 30 percent from last year’s rate of 33.
“This made the overall admission process very competitive,” Doris explained. “These results speak very well for Cornell.”
Lynne Abel, associate dean for undergraduate education, explained that this year’s record-low acceptance rates were possible because the admissions office filled most of the class with early decision applicants. The office was especially happy to report that the yield on admissions offers increased this year. Davis said that 51 percent of students accepted Cornell’s offer of admission, a two percent increase from last year.
To an extent, the higher yield on acceptance offers comes as a surprise to the admissions office. Given Cornell’s drop in the U.S. News and World Report rankings during this past year, a higher admissions yield might seem unlikely. But as Saleh explained, rankings only play a small role in a student’s selection process.
“Much of what we accomplish is governed by the general reputation of the University,” he said, praising the administration’s public relations efforts. Saleh stressed that the University constantly strives to promote the accomplishments of its faculty and students.
Of the 3,152 freshmen who are currently enrolled for the fall, the admissions office expects about 140 to change their decision to attend, a phenomenon known as the “summer melt.”
“This is a typical situation,” Saleh said. “We lose two to three percent of incoming freshmen from the end of June to September.” He cited exchange programs, financial burdens and one-year deferrals as factors for the reduction.
The admissions office makes its final count of the class at the end of the third week of classes. However, this year’s summer melt has gone slower than anticipated. As Davis explained, “since we admitted fewer students this year, we were expecting that we would be closer to our enrollment target of 3,000 students.”
Although the admissions office has notified Campus Life of the anticipated class size well in advance, the North Campus Housing Initiative is creating additional constraint on the size of the class. To guarantee housing for all freshmen, the office must aim for a target of 3,000 students.
“The last two classes have been huge, and we need to even out the pipeline or we’ll be flooded,” Rawlings said.
In keeping with efforts to diversify the student body, the admissions office sent 13 percent of acceptance letters to underrepresented minorities, a slightly higher percentage than last year.
“Word has gotten out that Cornell cares about its undergraduate education,” Rawlings said. “We have been seeking out as many minority students as we can.”
Of the 3,152 incoming freshmen, five percent are African-American, another five percent are Hispanic, three percent are bi- or multi-racial, and less than one percent are Native American.
Although fewer Native American and Puerto Rican students applied this year, the University remains pleased with the overall diversity of the freshman class. “It will serve to enrich the education students will receive at the University,” said Robert L. Harris, vice provost for diversity and faculty development.
He attributed the increase in minority applicants to “more intensive recruiting efforts” that began last August. Such efforts included a phone-a-thon and mailings to underrepresented minority applicants with promising scores, according to Abel.
This year, the College of Arts and Sciences conducted two hosting programs for underrepresented minorities. Abel explained that the arts college has had difficulty in inviting all the students who wanted to come and visit in the past. But this year, with financial help from Vice Provost Mary Sansalone, the college had enough money to invite all African-American applicants. As a result, the number of African-American freshmen in the arts college this fall increased from 51 to 84.
International students, making up 8.5 percent of the Class of 2004, add to the diverse mix, with Singapore, Canada and Hong Kong as the most represented countries, according to Wendy Schaerer, senior associate director of undergraduate admissions.
Saleh explained that international students tend to appreciate Cornell’s strong programs more than its Ivy League status. “In engineering, hotel, architecture and agriculture, Cornell beats the Ivy competition for international students,” he said.
In addition to minority and international recruitment efforts, the arts college, for the first time, has sent special postcards to all incoming arts freshmen. “We’ve asked them if they want to update us on their area of interest for advising purposes,” Abel said.
Approximately 1030 freshmen have enrolled in the arts college for the fall. Even with an admissions rate of 25 percent, the lowest of Cornell’s seven colleges, the college is hoping get down to 990 students by September, according to Abel.
Although one third of arts college freshmen have declared themselves pre-medicine, Abel explained that the majority of students remain undecided as to their field of study. “I sent them a letter saying it’s okay to be undecided,” she added.
In contrast, students entering the College of Engineering tend to be more focused on a specific area, according to Betsy East, director engineering admissions. “From past research, we know that about 75 percent of freshmen indicate a major field of interest,” East said.
Although a student’s field of interest is not factored into the admissions process, the majority of the 803 freshmen enrolled in the engineering college indicated either electrical and computer engineering or computer science as their field of interest. However, East noted that most change their mind before declaring a major.
The engineering applicant pool was stronger this year based on a small rise in composite SAT scores. While a 39 percent acceptance rate might appear lofty when compared with the lower rate in the arts college, the applicant pool is far more self-selecting than other schools, according to Saleh.
“The quality of applicants is up,” said John Hopcroft, dean of the engineering college, noting that 93 percent of applicants were in the top ten percent of their high school class.
Deborah Cox, assistant dean of student services, stressed that the quality of the class is “the most significant difference [between engineering and the other colleges]. Engineering students quantitatively have the highest score
s in the University,” Cox said, noting extremely high verbal scores across the class.
The percentage of enrolled female freshmen engineers continues to remain lower than that of males, although this year the figure increased three percent to 25.2.
The engineering college also conducted extensive recruiting of underrepresented minorities earlier in the year. For example, the engineering college hosted 13 guidance counselors from the Chicago area. “We wanted to establish relationships with them and provide them with an inside look at the [engineering college] and the University,” East said.
In the School of Hotel Administration, 172 freshmen, including 24 transfer students will fill Statler Hall this fall, according to Don Bishop, associate dean for enrollment. Attesting to the expansive reaches of the hotel industry, the class of 2004 will include 21 international students.
Bishop stressed that although the academic credentials of all applicants to the college were strong, the selection process emphasizes more than just SAT scores. Hotel admissions rejected 48 percent of applicants who scored over 1400 on the SAT.
“We don’t rely on SATs as much because we’re looking for other dimensions. We want bright students with leadership and an interest in serving people,” Bishop said.
The College of Human Ecology sought students who were “very interested in human beings,” Jennifer Gerner, associate dean of the human ecology college, said. The 243-person class, while slightly smaller than the desired number, is “the strongest class we’ve ever had,” according to Gerner.
Due to increased applications, the acceptance rate in human ecology dropped by five percent this spring. 30 percent of the students are out-of-state residents.
The College of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) admissions officers looked for students with interests that suited the school’s program, according to Mary VanArsdale, director of admissions and student services.
“We’ve had the most outstanding students apply in our entire history. They are truly remarkable,” she said.
Approximately one quarter of ILR acceptance offers were mailed to early decision applicants. As a result, regular acceptance rates fell five percent.
The College of Architecture, Art and Planning, the smallest of the University’s seven schools, received 120 acceptances. “The students are all very strong academically and we put a high priority on creativity with art and architecture,” said Elizabeth Cutter, director of admissions for the architecture college.
Even after the admissions office finalizes the incoming freshman class, it must continue working to retain several members. A key to attracting admitted students is the quality and quantity of the financial aid the University provides, according to Thomas C. Keane, director of financial aid and student employment.
Cornell supplied just over 50 percent of entering freshmen with financial aid, awarding a total of $63 million, a five percent increase from last year, according to Saleh.
A fundraising campaign that concluded last December netted over $230 million for the financial aid endowment.
“This is extraordinary. … It has allowed us to maintain our commitment to need-blind admissions and to enhance our packages somewhat,” Saleh said.
Compared with its peer institutions, Cornell’s financial aid packages are “in the middle of the league,” in terms of the mix between loans and grants, he explained.
“Our loan-work portion is higher than grants,” Saleh said.
Archived article by Ken Meyer