Early decision applications reach all-time high

4,780 students applied to join the Class of 2017, a 5.6-percent increase from 4,527 applicants last year

· November 12, 2012, 12:46 am

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Penn’s early decision applications hit an all-time high this year, as 4,780 students applied to join the class of 2017.

This number marks a 5.6-percent increase from 4,527 applicants last year.

Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said he was especially pleased with the increase, since he expected application numbers to decrease, citing persistent economic uncertainty and changing demographics which have caused a decreasing population in traditional feeder areas for Penn such as New England.

“I really felt like there would be a dampening effect for early decision,” Furda said. “And I was wrong, because we were up.”

The Office of Admissions’ extension of the early decision deadline from Nov. 1 to Nov. 6 — which was due to Hurricane Sandy — provided more flexibility in the application process, as 2,968 students had pressed submit by Nov. 1, nearly 2,000 fewer than ended up applying. The deadline was also extended due to weather in 2011.

Furda emphasized that since the office informed students and their counselors about the extension on Oct. 28, many who would have applied in time simply took a few extra days to finish their application.

“It was the right thing to do,” Furda said. “It wasn’t a strategy to get more applications.”

Top Colleges educational consultant Steven Goodman, a 1989 Graduate School of Education alumnus, agreed that while extending the deadline was the right choice, students would have found a way to get their application in by Nov. 1.

“A student who is in the middle of trying to do an application without power is pretty committed to applying to Penn early decision, and would’ve been committed with or without the hurricane,” Goodman said.

Regardless of whether the extension boosted application numbers, students took advantage of the extra five days to perfect their applications.

“I am surprised that there are more people this year than ever, but maybe a part of the reason is the extra time people got through Sandy,” said Cameron Wong, who applied in the early round from Darien, Conn. “I know some of my friends finished their applications late and then submitted them.”

Even though the total number of applications increased, the Office of Admissions does not plan on substantially raising the number of students who will be accepted early. Like in past years, Furda does not expect to admit more than 1,200 students through early decision.

Penn has not yet identified whether SAT scores or other measures of academic performance are higher for this year’s pool of applicants than for prior classes. However, Furda said he is impressed with the initial responses he has seen to the University’s new essay question about how applicants plan to engage academically at Penn.

This year’s application also includes a question about a quote from Ben Franklin asking applicants which of three classes they fall into — “those that are immovable, those that are movable and those that move.”

“The jury’s still out,” Furda said of the new Franklin essay.

Over the past several years, Penn’s early decision numbers have seen several fluctuations. Starting in 2006, the early pool experienced three straight years of decline. Then, in 2008 the number started to tick up again until it reached 4,571 in 2010, before slipping slightly in 2011. Goodman said he predicts that this number will continue to grow.

“The bottom line is Penn is a first choice for a lot of students,” he said. “A rational student who is serious about Penn is going to give a very serious look at early decision. And I think these numbers reflect that … I see this trend continuing for the foreseeable future.”

Furda, however, said that while he is pleased about the increases, he does not envision applications continuing to rise substantially for several more years on a consistent basis.

“I will be very surprised if in the near future we go over 5,000,” Furda said. “But if I could tell you what that chart’s going to look like next year, I should probably start betting on some other things.”

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