A Steady Climb Upwards

A Steady Climb Upwards

Freshman class reflects BC's goal to increase quality and diversity

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

Stephanie Prudente knew early on in her college search that she wanted to be in the Boston College Class of 2004. Two of her fellow classmates, Todd Sadowski and Michael Pullano, weren't as sure.

Whatever their motivations, the three were among the nearly 21,000 applicants who sought places in this fall's freshman class. That number, the highest ever recorded at BC, continued an upward trend in applications that is unprecedented in University history.

For Prudente, a Freehold, NJ, native, the equation was straightforward. She wanted to study teaching at a college with a strong academic reputation, she loved the Boston area, and her grandfather, an alumnus of Loyola College of Baltimore, had sold her on the benefits of a Jesuit education. BC met all those criteria.

But Sadowski and Pullano, for various reasons, did not seriously consider BC - at first. While they knew about the University's academic reputation, it was their visits to campus that had the most impact on them.

"I just thought the campus looked beautiful," said Pullano, of Cranston, RI. "I enjoyed talking with the students and other people I met there, and the whole experience left me with a very good impression of BC."

Sadowski agrees, noting that his visits to his other colleges of choice had left him cold. "We wound up at the Lower Campus Dining Hall, and were just taken by the people we saw, even by the food selection they offered," said the Sandwich, Mass., native. "My dad said, 'People are happy here.'"

The lofty application numbers may be impressive, but BC enrollment management administrators are even more pleased with the steady rise in academic excellence this influx has brought to the student body. In fact, they said, it is quality rather than quantity that truly defines BC's undergraduate recruitment efforts, as exemplified by this year's 2,160-member freshman class - smaller, and measurably higher in quality than those in the past.

"Our goal is not to simply have more applicants, but a higher quality and diversity of applicants," said Dean of Enrollment Management Robert S. Lay. "We actually expect the number of applications to level off this year. But we hope we'll continue to see more interesting, talented students who want to come to Boston College."

Top 20 private universities
in freshman applications

1. New York University
2. Boston University
3. University of Southern California
4. Cornell University
5. Boston College
6. Harvard University
7. Stanford University
8. University of Pennsylvania
9. Washington University
10. Northeastern University
11. Northwestern University
12. Princeton University
13. Brown University
14. George Washington University
15. Carnegie-Mellon University
16. Tufts University
17. Duke University
18. Yale University
19. Georgetown University
20. Columbia University
Perhaps the most compelling indicator of BC's emergence as a "hot school" among prospective college students is that it ranked fifth among private national universities in freshman applications last year, the only Catholic institution to make the top 15. Every one of the 50 states is represented in this year's freshman class, Lay added.

To alleviate potential overcrowding in campus housing, BC opted to enroll a freshman class slightly smaller than the normal size of 2,250. The University accepted for admission 32 percent of Class of 2004 applicants, and wound up with a yield of 34 percent, the latter a 1 percent improvement over last year.

"When you can be selective and improve your yield at the same time," Lay said, "you've become an institution that is etched in people's minds as an attractive place."

The smaller-and-selective approach resulted in a freshman class whose combined middle 50 percent range of SAT scores is 1230-1370, compared with the 1200-1340 of the Class of 2000. One-quarter of the class have SATs above 1370.

Director of Undergraduate Admission John Mahoney Jr. points out that, according to enrollment management statistics, since 1990 Boston College has risen from the 81st percentile among SAT-taking college-bound students to 89th - another sign that BC is becoming more competitive among the nation's top universities.

Lay noted that AHANA students comprise 22 percent of the Class of 2004, and that for the sixth consecutive year BC has enrolled 100 or more African-American freshmen students.

Gauging exactly what it is that has made BC the proverbial "hot school" is different than analyzing enrollment numbers, Lay and Mahoney acknowledge. If one compares the process of college-hunting to an Internet search engine, Lay said, then the keywords most BC applicants type in would appear to be "Boston," "Catholic," "Jesuit" and "good students."

"You do have to include our location as a draw," Lay said. "If BC is a 'hot school,' then Boston is a 'hot town.' Even TV shows and movies are choosing Boston as a setting."

Once students and their families begin looking at BC in earnest, Mahoney says, they are often impressed by the strength of faculty teaching and research, as well as campus facilities and technology. But the initial interest is as likely to be sparked by word of mouth.

"They'll hear from someone about what a positive experience going to BC is," Mahoney explained. "It might not even be a BC student who tells them; perhaps it's a friend or family member of someone who attends BC. But that does make an impression."

Mahoney said his office is seeking to capitalize on the recent success. In May, the University sponsored 15 receptions in various locations across the country for this year's high school seniors. Admission offered four informational sessions and five tours per day during the summer, and this fall will send representatives to 400 high schools while hosting another 20 informational programs in major metropolitan areas.


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