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Early applications to Penn dropped slightly this year, admissions officials announced yesterday.

Overall, the University received 4,001 early applications this fall, down about 2.5 percent from last year's 4,120 applications.

While the College and the School of Nursing both saw drops, applications to Wharton and to the Engineering School increased.

Dean of Admissions Lee Stetson said he expects to admit between 20 and 30 percent of the early applicant pool, which will fill close to half of the Class of 2011.

Stetson added that this year's overall decrease - which follows a 21-percent surge last year - came as no surprise.

Admissions officials anticipated the drop because last year's high level of selectivity, which resulted from the increase, most likely discouraged some students from applying to Penn, Stetson said.

Increased selectivity one year "tends to soften the number [of applications] just a bit" the following year, he said.

Despite the overall drop, this year's applicant pool is more geographically diverse than last year's, he said.

Nineteen states - including Texas, Arizona and Virginia - saw record numbers of applicants. The number of international applications also set a record, rising 13 percent to reach 599.

This year was also "one of the few times" that Penn has received at least one early application from every state, he added.

The number of African American applicants rose 20 percent, to 209. Applications from Hispanic, Asian and Native American students remained relatively stable.

Experts disagreed over whether last year's selectivity is a valid explanation for the drop.

David Mason - president of New Jersey-based admissions consulting company College Research Consultants - said Penn's high selectivity last year could be a valid explanation for the drop in applications, adding that he believes prospective applicants do get discouraged when they look at the Ivies' low acceptance rates.

But Jeannie Borin - president of the California-based College Connections admissions consulting company - said Penn's surge in applications last year was likely not a major deterrent, since fluctuations in a school's selectivity are not highly publicized.

Prospective applicants may have known that Penn experienced an application frenzy, but they would not have known exact numbers or details, she said.

Stetson said he believed that this fall's national debate over early admissions programs - sparked by Harvard University eliminating the practice for the next cycle and Princeton University planning to follow suit a year later - was not a factor in Penn's early-application drop this year.

Mason agreed that Harvard and Princeton's announcements did not have much impact this year, since they occurred too late to make a significant difference in students' decisions.

Borin, however, said she did notice many students and parents "feeling insecure about how stable the early programs" are in general, she said.

This perception may have prompted some students to forego applying early, she said.

Nevertheless, Borin added, the 100-applicant drop at Penn was not significant.

"It's nothing Penn is doing wrong," she said.

Early applicants will be able to check their admissions status at 5 p.m. on Dec. 14.

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