Cornell revealed on Thursday that it would not publicly announce its acceptance rate for the Class of 2024 — an uncommon move among top-tier universities where admissions numbers are combed over by alumni, prospective students and admissions counselors alike.
Beginning with this year’s enrolling class, the University will halt biannually reporting accepted student application numbers and demographics because these statistics create a “frenzied atmosphere” that can discourage potential applicants, said Jonathan Burdick, vice provost for enrollment.
“We’re doing this because we’d like to reduce the ‘metric mania,’” Burdick said in a statement. “Cornell being highly selective is not news, and the specific data for any given year doesn’t change or matter that much.”
The data describing the enrolling class will not be available until midsummer, when Cornell reports to the federal government through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System — after the admissions cycle has ended.
Federal law requires Cornell to report information on admissions and financial aid. The data the University previously reported following early and regular admissions decisions will still become publicly available through the National Center for Education Statistics.
Cornell joins Stanford in undergraduate admissions statistics reporting policy change
Burdick said in a statement that Cornell’s “holistic” admissions process means “no one applicant’s chances can be guided by ‘averages.’”
Stanford University made headlines in 2018 when it stopped highlighting admissions data — citing the nation’s “outsized emphasis” on admissions rates, which chart in the single-digits or low teens for the country’s elite colleges.
But Cornell was the only school in the Ivy League not to report its acceptance rate last week.
Burdick said Cornell’s reasons for no longer announcing undergraduate application statistics are a “close match” to Stanford’s. Cornell wants to attract a socioeconomically diverse applicant pool, undeterred by “meaningless ‘averages,’” Burdick said.
“We’re not alone or completely original in this,” Burdick said. “Stanford started doing this in 2018. I was in attendance at some of the same meetings when my Stanford counterpart started to discuss it in public.”
Read more about Cornell’s decision to no longer report admissions data on Ivy Day here.
How Cornell fits into Ivy League admissions
This year, at least five of the Ancient Eight — all of which have asked students to vacate their campuses due to COVID-19 concerns — reported admission rate hikes, with only Princeton seeing a shrinkage.
In 2019, Cornell joined Princeton as the only schools in the Ivy League to see minor increases in admissions rate. Cornell’s admissions rate rose slightly from 10.3 percent to 10.6 percent last year, as the University both received fewer applications and accepted fewer students than previous year.
According to Burdick, Cornell has invited more students to the waitlist this year than in 2019, as the coronavirus pandemic has created uncertainty around student enrollment. Brown University also reported a slight uptick in waitlist offers to give the admissions office flexibility as it works to maintain a consistent class size, amid anticipation that more admitted students will take gap years.
Cornell’s admissions data is typically made public along with its acceptances in March, with both a data set and a write-up from Cornell’s media relations publication, the Cornell Chronicle.
Headlines for the last three years touted the “most diverse class ever,” a “record number of applicants” and “new application, diversity records.”
This practice is also ceasing, University spokesperson John Carberry said in a statement to The Sun on Thursday.
Application and acceptance data has long been made available alongside regular decision results, on what has come to be called “Ivy Day.”
Cornell has been announcing its admission statistics, which also include demographic data, in early spring for decades — giving new students and the world a snapshot into the next four years of a Cornell undergraduate education.
This means that Cornell also broke Ivy Day tradition by not highlighting data on its accepted students, such as percentages of accepted women and students of color, numbers for first-generation offers and data on states and countries from which students hail.
Burdick said that information on “enrolled” students would continue to be made available via reports on the University’s Institutional Planning website, which currently displays reports through the Class of 2023.
Cornell tracks admission rates and student enrollment through this platform’s dashboards, a resource that will still be made available each year, typically in August as new students arrive on campus.
Data show that Cornell’s acceptance rate experienced a decline for four years before last year’s slight uptick, with the largest decrease in 2018 — when the University’s admissions officers sifted through a record-high 51,328 applications.
Class of 2024 admitted students react to this policy change
Regular decision applicants who opened their admissions decisions on Thursday to a “Congratulations!” are the first class of incoming Cornellians in decades who will wait to hear their class acceptance rate.
But some admitted students wonder if this shift will ease the anxiety surrounding the numbers-heavy admissions process.
Ji Min Yoo ’24, a senior at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, New York, said she worries that withholding these statistics could “send the wrong message.”
“People might question why they would need to release it later, why they are trying to conceal the numbers for a little while,” Yoo said. “They are releasing the numbers later so it is not like they are hiding them, but it does make you question why.”
Yoo said she and her classmates have found college admissions data valuable, adding that diversity statistics and geography have swayed which colleges they decided to apply to and attend.
This well-circulated data summarizes admissions cycles, Yoo said. She added that these numbers are “not necessarily discouraging.”
“They’re really informative and interesting,” Yoo said. “Obviously for Ivy League colleges, the acceptance rate can be very low, but it’s also realistic. It’s just showing you exactly how many people are admitted.”
Tess Fuqua ’24, one of Yoo’s high school classmates, said she doesn’t mind Cornell’s admissions data policy change — but she worries about the current high school juniors who rely on these statistics to guide which college applications they decide to fill out.
“During junior year, throughout the whole year I was looking at the statistics, not just over the summer,” Fuqua said. “If I were a junior right now, that’s what I would be worried about.”
However, Fuqua said she thought withholding admissions statistics until the summer could relieve Cornell applicants that were denied admission, who no longer will soon face a description of the incoming class.
“I think people won’t notice a huge change in their lives because [this data] is not available,” Yoo said, “but it is kind of odd, and I question if it’s going to be effective.”
A look at how Cornell accepts its students
Two admissions officers sat down with The Sun in 2018 for insight on the “thorough and holistic” admissions processes Burdick highlighted this week.
“As you sit in classrooms, you are probably getting an education that’s very different [from] a student going to a liberal arts college, because you’re hearing opinions and thinkings of students from architecture, from engineering, from the hotel school,” said Jason Locke, then-interim vice provost for enrollment, in 2018.
“And that really is part of the process — would the student really thrive in a place like Cornell?” Locke said.
The newly admitted students in Cornell’s Class of 2024 went through multiple admissions rounds based on their college of choice, including a first academic weed-out review, evaluation of a student’s performance within their circumstances and possible evaluation by faculty based on how well-suited they are for the Hill.
Read more about Cornell’s admissions process here.
The process was largely similar for those in the Class of 2024 who were accepted early decision. However, the University chose to release those statistics to The Sun in December as normal — the ED acceptance rate rose slightly, but kept on par with recent years.
Cornell is also choosing to delay the results of the first complete admissions cycle since the Varsity Blues scandal rocked higher education last year. While Cornell was not implicated, an alumnus was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud and sentenced to a month behind bars.
President Martha E. Pollack told The Sun last year that Cornell conducted a “thorough review” of its athletics admissions within days of the news breaking, but promised that Cornell’s “decentralized” admissions — where each college conducts its own admissions — would be reviewed.
For those admitted to the College of Arts and Sciences, this was also the first class not required to submit SAT subject tests for admission, a move taken to relieve the financial pressure of the $22-apiece exams (plus $26 registration fee), an admissions director said in the fall.
Raphy Gendler ’21 contributed reporting.