Application Numbers Steady After Test-Optional Spike

The GW Hatchet
March 7, 2019

By Sarah Roach

Three years after implementing a test-optional policy, the number of students applying to undergraduate programs each year has begun to stabilize.

The year that GW told applicants they did not have to submit SAT or ACT scores, the number of students applying to the University hit what was then an all-time high of more than 25,000. In the years since, about 27,000 students have consistently applied to the University each year – a trend experts said demonstrates consistent recruitment strategies and an intentional effort to tout GW’s student experience.

This year, about 27,070 students applied to GW – the second-most in recent memory and nearly 8,000 more than the number of applicants in 2014. About 300 more students applied to the University this year than last, officials said at a Faculty Senate meeting Friday.

Dean of Admissions Costas Solomou said he was “happy” to see an increase in applications this year. He said the admissions office has poured “tremendous effort” into increasing awareness of the University’s academic programs and overall student experience.

The University enrolled its largest freshman class in recent history last fall and did not take any students off the waitlist in May.

He said waiving the standardized test requirement in 2015 could have garnered increased attention and interest in the University and “led to a recalibration of our baseline application numbers.” But the trend may also demonstrate that GW appears to be a more valuable education institution to prospective students and their families, Solomou said.

He said recruiting prospective students begins as early as sophomore year of high school, and the University has enlisted staff to attend college fairs, visit high schools around the world and assist students through application workshops and panels.

Officials set out to conduct financial aid workshops last semester in three U.S. cities for prospective students and their families. The University also debuted a new scholarship last fall dedicated to international students.

“Each interaction helps a prospective student decide whether GW is a right-fit college for them,” he said in an email.

Steve Goodman, an educational consultant and admissions strategist, said this year’s slight uptick in applications could indicate consistency in the University’s recruitment efforts – but concerted efforts to promote student life and academic opportunities have likely pushed more students to apply.

“Schools don’t stay stable because of recruiting,” he said. “A university stays stable because of a combination of what’s going on on campus – and I don’t mean just in terms of where they go on campus – I mean they’re happy in terms of their classes, they’re happy in terms of social life.”

Michael Walsh, the dean of admissions at James Madison University, said if the University continues to see an increase in applicants, GW could be seen as a “good place” for students to apply as both a first choice school and backup. He said the number of applications typically “ebb and flow,” and a university should not tout its applicant pool unless there is a continued upward trend.

“If it happens for three years, it’s a trend,” Walsh said. “If my apps drop for three years in a row, I need to worry. If my apps go up for three years in a row, then OK, we’ve made inroad somewhere.”

Walsh added that the University’s decision to drop a self-reporting grade feature on the Common Application this year could have contributed to an increase in applications. He said eliminating the feature, which GW piloted last year, may have pushed students who were not set on GW to apply because they did not have to spend as much time on their submission.

“As you try different things, we have to be very careful on how that appears to different populations,” he said.

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