Though overall applications to the University decreased slightly this year, the school saw a major shift in when people apply – with a vast number choosing early decision over regular admission.
Total applications to the University decreased 2.3 percent this year, despite a 43 percent increase in early decision applicants, said Kathryn Napper, executive dean for undergraduate admissions.
Admitted students, guidance counselors and admissions officials said in interviews that GW’s strong programs in political science, international affairs and media and public affairs drove many students to submit binding early decision applications. But the spike in ED applications could have more to do with the competitive college admissions climate than GW’s strengths.
A number of other universities saw substantial increases in early decision applications – including Tufts, Wesleyan, Dartmouth and Northwestern – despite the poor economy. Admissions experts attribute the change to an increasingly competitive college market. Students who look for admissions security may be looking to GW since they have fewer options at schools like Harvard and University of Virginia, who dropped their early decision option.
Napper attributed the decrease in regular decision applications to the early decision increase. She also said that as the financial recession appears to deepen, prospective students and families may be wary about applying to a university with tuition of more than $50,000.
“The change in applications is with regular decision, which is not surprising given the current economy and the economic forecasts for the coming year,” Napper said.
The University’s early decision process became slightly more competitive, with 54 percent of ED I applicants accepted in December, a decrease from the previous year. ED II candidates will learn whether they have been admitted in early February.
Regular decision acceptance letters are mailed in late March or early April, but the increase in early decision applications could be bad news for regular decision applicants. Napper said fewer spaces are expected to be available for regular decision applicants due to the increased number of early applications.
With more applicants applying for the binding early acceptance, this year’s numbers reversed last year’s trend of decreasing early decision admissions. In the 2007-2008 admission year, ED I applications decreased by 6 percent and ED II applications decreased 15 percent, The Hatchet previously reported.
Several students who applied this year said the early decision option was appealing because there would be less pressure during the remainder of their senior year in high school. GW also often touts the benefits of applying early in its literature, including a higher admittance rate and priority housing status.
Many admitted students also said that GW’s long-standing strengths, including programs in political science, international affairs and media and public affairs, are what drove them to apply.
Sharon Drell, a college counselor at Cleveland High School in Reseda, Calif., said students who apply to GW from her school are interested in getting an authentic Washington experience.
“They want to be in Washington. They want to go into politics, law or international relations,” Drell said.
Ted Dooley, an incoming freshman who was accepted to GW early decision, said the array of political internship opportunities and the political communication major led him to the University.
“After attending an info session, I loved the fact that GW is so strong in its internships and that most students do have internships, especially some at the Capitol,” Dooley said. “As a future politician, this struck home for me, as I hoped that one day I could be a GW student with a great internship in the Capitol.”
But students who apply to GW are not necessarily interested in politics, said Edward de Villafranca, the dean of college counseling at the Peddie School in Hightstown, N.J. He said he tells his students that GW offers a variety of programs, even for those students not necessarily interested in politics.
“Whether a kid wants to do foreign service or business or health-related professions, it’s all there,” de Villafranca said.
Joseph Greenberg, the University’s regional director of admissions for several Northeastern states including Massachusetts and New Hampshire, said he was surprised by the increase in early applications because of the recessive economy.
But, like other GW admissions officials interviewed, Greenberg pointed to GW’s high percentage of students receiving financial aid and its fixed tuition policy as factors that make the University seem less costly to prospective students.