Fall class comes in strong at Emory, Oxford

"Admissions is more of an art than a science" is something that Dean of Admission Dan Walls is fond of saying. And several events this spring made the canvas much less predictable as the Office of Admission worked to paint a picture of this fall's entering class.

Improved rankings in the national news magazines, including a ranking of #13 in the new category of undergraduate teaching by U.S. News & World Report, brought positive news for the admission staff.

The controversy that began on campus before spring break with the assault of a black female student by a white male student and escalated into e-mail messages that criss-crossed the country raised apprehensions that the number of minority students might decrease in this year's class.

However, when the dust settled and the May 1 deadline came and went, next year's freshman class is once again impressive. Applications for the class had topped 10,000 for the first time ever, and only 44.5 percent of that applicant pool was offered admission, a rate that Walls said is "our lowest admit rate ever." Last year's admit rate was 51 percent.

"We assumed we would go to our wait list for 100 students or so," said Walls. "We were surprised that deposits were so heavy for the strongest class we have ever admitted. This is a group of students that had many, many options." Walls said that 30 students off the wait list have been offered admission; the other 800 active students on the wait list have received letters that the class is full.

A strong profile

In what seems like a phrase that gets repeated each year, Walls said that this year's class "is our strongest ever," and their SAT scores and GPAs seem to bear that out. The middle 50 percent range of SAT scores for the class is between 1250 and 1400, while the average GPA is between 3.6 and 3.7. "However," said Walls, "GPAs are almost as unique as individual high schools across the country. We look at curriculum more. A GPA in a vacuum doesn't mean much. The members of this class, in order to gain admission, have taken among the most demanding high school classes."

Walls said that as the numbers stand right now, 1,205 students have made their deposits. The goal for the class is 1,125, and Walls projects that the final number will be between 1,125 and 1,150. "There was pressure this year to make every effort to bring the class in at the goal," said Walls. "Being over creates problems for many other people-- Todd Schill in Residential Services has to find them a room, [Associate Dean of the College] Peter Dowell has to find classes and freshman seminars." Usually a number of students have paid deposits to multiple schools and are waiting to make a decision over the summer, said Walls.

Campus climate and minority recruitment

In many ways, the entering class is much like last year's. Walls said the percentage of students of color remains at 25 percent, including 8.5 percent African American students, slightly down from last year's 9 percent. The ratio of African American women to men has shifted from approximately 3:1 to 2:1, with 67 women and 35 men among the entering class.

"Did we take a hit based on the negative press?" Walls mused. "Anecdotally, we know of students who turned us down and chose other schools because they perceived that the racial climate was unsettled."

"The African American Visitation Weekend, headed by Vicki Green and Eddie Irions made a big difference," said Vice Provost for Academic and Enrollment Planning Mel Lockhart. Dozens of Emory's African American students actively participated in planning for and hosting admitted students during that weekend. "The yield among African American students who visited was more than twice as high as last year's yield," said Lockhart.

Financial aid a major factor

Financial aid continues to be a major factor in students' decisions, according to Walls and Director of Financial Aid Julia Perreault. "We're receiving many more letters and calls about negotiating financial aid," said Walls, "or asking for us to match another school's offer. That shouldn't be a surprise to us, though, given our cost and given the climate in higher education. The image is that colleges are willing to negotiate, and many other schools do regularly negotiate and barter. We don't negotiate."

Perreault echoed Walls' sentiments. "We had several instances where students and parents faxed or mailed us copies of award letters from other institutions to attempt to convince us they were entitled to more at Emory. This usually occurred when another school had offered them a merit award but they did not meet Emory's merit award requirements, nor did they demonstrate financial need."

Lockhart said, "I have been particularly impressed with the efficiency of the financial aid office this year. Applicants' awards went out earlier than ever before." She credits much of that positive change to Perreault's leadership.

According to Perreault, several factors have contributed to the successful year, including a full staff during the height of the packaging season. "That has helped tremendously," she said. "We were able to get all the freshman awards out on time so parents were not having to call for aid information as the deadline drew near." Also, Perreault said that she has emphasized teamwork and cross-training within the office "so that tasks are attended to, regardless of whose responsibility they are." Perreault said that a customer service workshop earlier this year enabled staff "to develop skills in being proactive with our `customers' so that situations don't develop, as well as skills in responding appropriately to those who are unhappy with their financial aid results."

Emory ranks high in teaching

Walls said that in the case of the rankings and whether or not they affected this year's class, he once again could "only answer anecdotally. Many students, high school counselors and parents mentioned U.S. News. I was amazed that so many, rather than mentioning our overall ranking, mentioned the ranking of teaching."

For the first time, the magazine tried "to identify schools with a commitment to undergraduate teaching," said Lockhart. "That ranking is one result that could not have been manipulated. No one knew they were asking the question." Lockhart said that the ranking was based on feedback from deans, presidents and provosts from other institutions. "We're one of a handful of top-25 institutions whose faculty are regarded as having an unusually strong commitment to undergraduate teaching," she said.

The Oxford picture

The news at Oxford this spring was record-breaking numbers of students. "For the first time ever," said Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Jenny Taylor, "we're having to return deposits. As of May 15, our class was full and all our residence halls were full for next year." Oxford topped 800 applications this year, an all-time high. With a rolling admissions plan, Oxford usually accepts applications throughout the spring and early summer. Never before, said Taylor, have they had to cut off applications, or tell students they were no longer accepting deposits.

While applications were up from last year by 5 percent, 391 students have now paid their deposits and indicated they will attend in the fall. Last year at this time, 334 student had paid deposits.

In terms of class profile, Oxford's entering class has an average SAT score of 1115 and an average GPA of 3.35. Students of color account for 23 percent of the class; 18 percent of those are African American students.

-- Nancy M. Spitler

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