Insights on Early Decision and Broader Application Trends

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November 17, 2017
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January 25, 2018

Insights on Early Decision and Broader Application Trends

Upon the release of our Early Decision notifications tonight at 7 PM Eastern Time, I’d like to reflect on the nature of the Early Decision pool we experienced this year, as well as offer some insights about the broader context of the applicant landscape for the class of 2022.

To begin, we saw a significant growth in our Early Decision applications this year. This ED pool – totaling over 7,000 applications – increased by approximately 15% over the prior year. We are pleased to see continued interest among our applicant pool nationally and internationally in the broad based liberal arts and sciences, as well as in our schools of nursing, engineering and business.

While an increase in applications signals sustained interest in a Penn education among prospective students, my staff and I sought to draw fine distinctions among a broad and deep pool of applicants, while also seeking to preserve places in the class for the applicants soon to come in Regular Decision. Indeed, despite the increase in our Early Decision pool, we admitted fewer students into the class this year under Early Decision than in the prior two years.

Considering the marked increase we experienced this year, my staff and I have tried to identify potential factors that may have contributed to this growth. While it is likely impossible to fully diagnose the exact reasons for a change of this scale, we have hypothesized a few factors that may have impacted the Early Decision landscape at Penn.

First, the class of 2022 is the first full cohort of students applying to college who had the opportunity to take the redesigned SAT (rSAT). With changes to format and scoring instituted by the College Board in 2016, most students received higher scores on the rSAT than what they would have received in the older SAT format. The rSAT represents a significant change within the larger college application landscape that may have impacted college search, choice, and application behavior on the part of individual students. Roughly half of the entire pool took the rSAT or the ACT as their primary test for admission.

This year, our applicant pool reflected a number of contextual trends that may have influenced student application behavior, academic interest, and extracurricular inclination. Among the growth within our College of Arts and Sciences pool, we saw students applying to majors like Political Science and Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) motivated by a strong desire to engage in public service. Framed by the backdrop of the 2016 political campaigns, many students wrote about their emerging civic awareness, their experiences volunteering their time on a political campaign, and their intention to study these subjects further at the college level.

We also continue to see a strong interest in the natural sciences, engineering, and business, with intended majors focusing around biology, computer science, behavioral economics, and strategic management. This trend aligns with what we know about “Generation Z” – the group into which most of our current applicants fall – that they are entrepreneurial, tech-savvy, and inclined towards innovation, reinvention, and personalization. The evolving landscape of health care delivery in the United States and proposed legislation on financing affordable care has contributed to increases in applications to our nursing school and a coordinated dual-degree with nursing and health care management.

Finally, with so many global events occurring around us, we are all trying to manage the complexities of our daily lives. As parents and community members, we need to be empathetic to the stimulus of messages surrounding our children.  In this larger framework, admissions decisions – while important – need to be placed in proper perspective.

From all of us at Penn, we’d like to express our gratitude to all of the students who indicated their strong interest in studying at Penn through their Early Decision application. We remain grateful for our partners in college counseling offices, community-based organizations, Penn alumni communities, and campus offices who support us in this important work. Most importantly, my staff and I offer our appreciation towards the students across the country and around the world who inspire us with their curiosity, open-mindedness, and imagination. The possibilities for our future are bright with these young people at the helm. We wish them and all of you a happy and healthy holiday season and a peaceful start to the New Year.

Note: Tune in to a special edition of Dean Furda’s radio show The Process, powered by the Wharton School, on SiriusXM Radio Channel 111 on December 18 at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time to hear expert advice on post-Early Decision results, Regular Decision deadlines and financial aid. Call in at 1-844-WHARTON.

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