After drop in applications, GW brushes off likely decline in selectivity

After applications to the University plummeted by 13 percent this year, top administrators say they are now anticipating but are unfazed by the expected blow to admissions selectivity.

Even with fewer applications, which will mean GW admits a higher percentage of students, Senior Associate Provost for Enrollment Management Laurie Koehler said she is still expecting an incoming class with better test scores.

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Laurie Koehler, the new senior associate provost for enrollment management, said she is unfazed by the likely drop in selectivity.

“I’m confident that our selectivity will not be as good as it has been, if you use that as a gauge, but our quality will be very strong, and that’s really the bottom line that we care about,” Koehler said.

Koehler said the admissions office is sometimes frustrated with the focus on selectivity “as a measure of the class that you enroll.” The admissions rate has stagnated at about 33 percent for the past three years, while last year, at least five schools in GW’s market basket became more selective.

The decline, GW’s first in nearly a decade, is less than the 4,000-application drop that officials predicted in October after the University began accepting only the Common Application, and one that administrators said would be reflected nationwide.

Applications declined at 43 percent of returning members that use the Common Application exclusively this year, according to a University release.

By stepping away from striving for more selectivity, GW is going against a common convention in admissions offices nationwide.

Selectivity is factored into university rankings, such as U.S. News and World Report’s annual list of the nation’s best colleges, and profiles by the College Board and the Princeton Review. While some high school students use ranking as a guide in the application process, experts say the marks mostly indicate prestige.

Scott Jaschik, editor and co-found of the news website Inside Higher Ed, said the impact of GW’s decline in applications would depend on the students that the University accepts, and how their credentials measure up to those of current students.

“Is the sky going to fall? Not necessarily. It’s going to depend on how good those people are,” Jaschik said. “If they lost the people they weren’t admitting anyway, it might have no impact at all.”

He added that larger applicant pools typically allow universities to recruit stronger incoming classes because they have more students from which to choose.

Early decision applicants performed better on the SAT, scoring about 30 points higher on the reading and math sections combined.

Koehler said students who applied to GW were also more committed.

Unlike past years when the admissions office would count applications from GW’s own separate form, which did not require a $75 fee upfront, students had to submit all materials at once through the Common Application this year.

The University’s early decision applicant pool took the greatest hit, with the number of applications dropping by half – from 2,157 to 1,106.

Koehler said the admissions office predicted that early decision applications would drop more dramatically because of the “multiple hoops students had to jump through” just to click “submit,” which prevented students from making rash decisions about whether to apply early.

“Because it’s a more rigorous application process, if you’re not serious about a school, you’re not going to pay that fee, you’re not going to fill out their institutional questions, which all became a part of the admissions process this year,” Koehler said.

GW received a total of 18,959 applications this year compared to 21,789 last year. The number of applications last dropped under 19,000 in 2003.

GW received 17,407 applications through the Common Application alone last year and 18,959 this year.

Scott Anderson, the Common Application’s senior policy director, said the total number of applications submitted through the company increased 13 percent this year.

“This year, as in any year, some colleges will see increases in applications, and others will see declines,” he said, adding that the Common Application was “not in a position to speculate about the causes of these fluctuations for individual colleges.”

The Common Application also came under fire this year after technical glitches forced schools, including GW, to extend submission deadlines.

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