And more students than ever are receiving skinny envelopes. Applications are up almost everywhere, so institutions have to be more selective. But despite the increase in applications, the number of students who send in their enrollment deposits is down.
According to numbers on Virginia Commonwealth University’s website, applications are up almost 70 percent since 2002, but the yield on acceptance letters is down about 9 percent.
BizSense caught up with two admissions directors in Richmond to talk about trends in college admissions. Nate Crozier is director of admissions at the University of Richmond, and Sybil Halloran is the admissions director at VCU.
Below are the edited transcripts.
Richmond BizSense: Richmond set a record this year for applications. What’s driving the increase?
Nate Crozier: This year we have 10,228 applications for 765 spaces. That’s an increase of 28 percent over three years and 50 percent over five years.
I think some of that is because of the rankings, but part of it is the investment we’ve made in our facilities and our robust financial aid packages. We are one of the few universities in the country that meet 100 percent of demonstrated need.
I think recruiting has a lot to do with it as well. For example, we had six staff members last year go overseas to recruit international students. About 500 members of our accepted class are the only one from their high school to apply. That speaks a lot to the recruiting we do.
RBS: With the increase in applications, have you seen a decrease in the number of students who enroll?
NC: Yield has been fairly steady but has declined some. But we’ve also seen a big increase in early decision applications. We had 816 this year.
RBS: Why does every university want to be a research university?
NC: I think a lot of that goes back to buzz words in higher education like “experiential learning.” But for us it’s about tying your theory to practical application. We fund student research and give them an opportunity to get published.
For an undergraduate, getting a published credit is like a ticket to grad school.
RBS: Is it tough sometimes to reject students, or do you just become desensitized?
NC: It’s certainly the toughest part of my job. A lot of times, these are students I’ve met on recruiting trips or at college fairs. I’ve met their families. Many stay in contact with me via email, which I encourage. So it’s not easy, especially since the vast majority of students who apply here are qualified for admission.
I think what makes it easier is that, with students applying to more schools, they are going to find a school that’s going to be a great fit for them.
RBS: Universities across the country are reporting increases in applications. Are you seeing that at VCU?
Sybil Halloran: We are. This year we received approximately 15,500 applications and that is an [8 percent] increase.
RBS: And have you seen a declining yield to go along with the rise in applications?
SH: It’s too soon to tell for this year, but I’m curious. We’re looking for a freshman class of 3,650, so we accepted 9,200 students. We’re hoping for the best.
RBS: VCU has had a lot of success with its basketball program recently. Has that had any effect on applications or admissions?
SH: It’s hard to gauge. If you talked to one of our recruiters, I think they’d tell you that what being in the Final Four does is give us national recognition. It means we have to spend less time introducing people to VCU. They already know who we are. They can spend more time talking about academics and what we have to offer.
RBS: What draws students to VCU?
SH: We have very strong specific academic programs. We have the nationally recognized school of the arts, for example, but we also have a great forensic sciences program.
I think it’s also location. In Richmond, you have access to so many other things: the state capital, internships, Fortune 500 companies and job opportunities.
Also, our student body is extremely diverse in many ways.
RBS: VCU students are known for having artsy tendencies: tattoos, piercings, etc. Is that a hindrance or a strength when you are recruiting?
SH: I think it’s definitely a strength, but it’s not going to appeal to everyone.
You know, it may not appeal to an engineering student, but obviously in arts and a lot of our creative programs, it is certainly a strength.