New York University junior Daniel Kline remembers exactly where he was the morning of September 11. Kline lives mere blocks from the World Trade Center and volunteered at ground zero for days after the towers collapsed.
“People, more or less, have gotten themselves back to normal now,” Kline said. “But people still cry and talk about what they saw. It took a long time before everyone wasn’t turning around every time they heard something in the air.”
Applications from high school seniors to universities in the District and New York soared past average levels following the attacks, despite looming threats of terrorism and uncertain security in cities targeted by terrorists, officials from GW and NYU admissions offices said.
Kathryn Napper, director of GW Undergraduate Admissions, said she was surprised to see applications increase by 1,000 in the months following September 11. Official numbers from NYU could not be ascertained.
Napper said a small number of applications had already been submitted prior to September 11, but the bulk of applications came in right after the terrorist attacks.
“Most students had their minds made up they would apply here (before September 11),” Napper said. “Most weren’t shaken by it. I was surprised that GW got very few questions about safety after September 11.”
She said the school accepted 1,000 fewer students this year, ending with an acceptance rate of 40 percent after a 48 percent rate for the class of 2005.
“There are more students out there applying, but now there is more competition overall,” Napper said. “We realized we could drop the admittance rate because the quality of students went up last year.”
She said GW expects the same number and quality of students to apply this year.
“Right now, it looks like we’ll meet if not beat last year,” Napper said. “GW’s response to the attacks was key.”
Napper said the admissions rate of international students is about the same this year as last year. She said the stagnation was caused by the increased difficulty in obtaining student visas, especially in Middle East countries.
“International applications stayed about the same,” she said. “About 25 fewer international students came. A flat application rate is bad enough.”
GW contacted hundreds of guidance counselors and held small group sessions in many towns to address GW’s security and safety after September 11, Napper said.
Many GW freshmen said the attacks did not affect their college decisions.
“I came to D.C. and fell in love with the city on my first visit. After seeing GW’s campus, I decided this is where I belong,” said freshman Ashley Westby, of Aurora, Colo. “I feel like I am in a really safe city. My parents feel that I’m in a really safe place, and we’re happy with my decision.”
Despite the rise in application numbers, some students left GW after September 11. Counseling Center Associate Director Debra Davis said many left because of anxiety, especially Arab students suffering racial backlash.
“Many students from Arab countries left because they felt unsafe,” Davis said.
According to studies by the American Medical, instances of post-traumatic stress disorder still linger among those who lived through September 11 in New York and D.C., many of them students.
Symptoms of PTSD include loss of appetite, changing sleep habits, difficulty concentrating or problem solving and feelings of confusion, irritability, grief or hyper-alertness, Davis said.
According to an August Journal of the America Medical Association study, about half a million New Yorkers, about 11 percent, suffered from PTSD symptoms as late as March. The report cited proximity to the attacks as the factor responsible for the high levels of PTSD. About 17 percent of New Yorkers exhibited PTSD signs two months after the attacks.
The survey, the first to document rates of PTSD in New York and D.C. compared to the rest of the nation, questioned about 2,729 Americans by phone and through the internet. D.C. residents showed a comparable PTSD rate to other areas of the country, about 5.8 percent, according to the study.
The GW Counseling Center said they prepared to handle more students than usual on the anniversary of the attacks, just as they did during the fall 2001 semester.
“Some distress is normal, and students handle it in different ways,” said University Counselor Bob Wilson. “We have telephone consultation and walk-in for students feeling exceptional stress.”
Davis said students came to the center with reactions to September 11 regularly until the end of the fall semester. She said this year has been normal so far, but increased media coverage in recent weeks may bring more students to the Counseling Center with anxiety.
“Some students have had typical stress reactions to a traumatic experience,” Davis said. “Some students had delayed reactions and some reacted right away.”
She said many students who worked as interns on Capitol Hill last fall suffered higher stress levels last year, as did students whose families lived close to New York City and students who knew someone who was killed.
“Everybody knew somebody who was affected,” Kline said. “Those living in buildings closest to the World Trade Center seemed hardest hit. But there’s almost a sense of camaraderie with everyone in the city. We all became New Yorkers that day.”