January 30, 2011

Inspiring Applicants

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Despite receiving an estimated 36,273 applications for the Cornell Class of 2015, the Undergraduate Admissions Office only saw miniscule growth in its overall application pool. With just 128 more applicants than last year, the University seems to have plateaued on an upward trend of the past several years. Although applications have been rising at a rate of five to 10 percent each year, the most recent pool has yielded a stagnant one-percent increase.

Despite the lackluster rise in applications to Cornell, high school seniors are applying to more colleges than ever. The University of Pennsylvania experienced a 15-percent increase, as did Dartmouth. Columbia University saw a 32-percent increase — credited in large part to their switch to the Common Application. Furthermore, the four-percent decrease in applicants this past fall to Cornell’s binding early decision plan shows that our University is becoming less of a first choice school. While other colleges reported a steady rise in early applications, Cornell’s number fell for the first time in seven years.

The innumerable factors leading to admissions numbers make it hard to pinpoint exactly what can be done to presently stimulate applications — an important source of funds and status for the University. Evidence indicates that publicity can affect a university’s applicant pool — especially bad publicity. Last year’s media parade on the string of tragic suicides on campus led to negative associations surrounding the University’s mental health and student morale, factors that may have deterred high school seniors from even applying.

Additionally, this past year saw a number of cuts to major programs, including the math department, the education department and the performing arts. These reductions in offerings decreases the breadth of the Cornell experience, something the University should pride itself on. Potential applicants who are passionate about these subjects may be discouraged from attending a school where their area of study is not valued as highly as others.

Despite the cuts, the University maintains one of the broadest curricula in the country, along with the potential to appeal to a wide variety of student interests and activities. Cornell has the resources and the ability to appeal to high school seniors as their primary choice for college, but must better market its mission to students across the nation.

The University must communicate the unique opportunities it offers as a large school that supports individualized student experiences — whether it is in the program houses, the specialized areas of study or the wide range of work and travel experiences. Moving forward, the University needs to prove that this year’s application pool was an anomaly in a strong upward trajectory, and consider how to accentuate the strong selling points of Cornell that brought our entire student body here.