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Eric Furda discussions how the Admissions Office is evaluating students who took the new SAT Reasoning Test as Penn receives a record number of applicants for the incoming Class of 2021

Credit: Megan Jones

Penn’s applicant pool has surpassed the 40,000 mark for the first time in its history.

Penn received a record 40,394 applications to the Class of 2021, including 6,147 applicants who applied through Early Decision. The Class of 2021 applicant pool increased four percent from last year, continuing the trend of two to four percent increases every year.

“It’s a different group of students,” Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said. “So we shouldn’t just assume that applications are going to be at certain level let alone they’re going to increase.”

About half of the growth in applications can be attributed to a rise in the number of international candidates.

Furda said about 45 percent of the increase in applicants came from outside the U.S. “That’s a larger increase outside the U.S. than we’ve seen before.”

For the first time, students applying to the Class of 2021 had the option of taking the new SAT Reasoning Test in addition to the old SAT and ACT familiar to previous applicants.

The new SAT differs from the old SAT in content and structure, reverting back to the 1600-scale and eliminating the penalty for guessing, among other changes.

1986 Wharton graduate Laurie Weingarten, co-founder and director of One-Stop College Counseling, noted some of the concerns surrounding the new SAT since its inception last March.

“The College Board administered one SAT last March, the new SAT, and then immediately put out a concordance table,” Weingarten said. “ACT organization is not in agreement with the concordance table that was put out, but the colleges are using it because the ACT will not agree to develop a concordance table until the new SAT has been around a little bit longer.”

Class of 2021 early decision admit Uday Tripathi said the uncertainty surrounding the new SAT led him to take the more established ACT instead.

“There simply weren’t that many materials available, because there weren’t all these years and years of tests available,” Tripathi said. “Nobody really knew what was going on with the new SAT because there just simply wasn’t any empirical way to see that.”

Furda stressed that the new SAT will not affect how the Admissions Office evaluates applications based on all of the information available.

“For all of us, we’re going to use all of the information that we always have, and this is what we would always talk about even when tests don’t change, about a student’s high school courses, what about the grades that they received,” Furda said. “We’re always going to take a look at all of these factors.”

Furda cautioned that it’s still too early to determine how the new SAT compares to the old SAT and ACT in its ability to predict freshman year academic performance.

“We need to wait and see what the first year performance of the Class of 2021 is after they enroll at Penn,” Furda said. “What we want to do as an interim step is pull on the grades [that freshmen in the Class of 2021] received in their first semester ... and then we can really take a look at the grades in the first semester in the freshman year and into the sophomore year. I think that’s when we’re going to know the most.”

Regardless of any future actions, the Admissions Office has the immediate task of assembling the Class of 2021.

“We’re reviewing applications six days a week right now,” Furda said. “The group of people here are committing themselves to make sure that we’re carefully evaluating the applications we receive — including the incremental four percent increase that we had.”

Admissions decisions for the Class of 2021 regular decision round will be released March 30.

Correction: A previous version of this article said that 45 percent of applications for the class of 2021 came from outside the U.S., when in reality 45 percent of the increase in applications were from outside the U.S. The DP regrets the error.