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Record Number of Applicants to Class of 2016

Both quantity and quality of potential students surging


As one of the record-breaking 43,655 applicants to next fall’s freshman class, Amy Horenstein is a barometer of both quantity and quality, personifying the high-powered achiever the University has targeted. With a high school GPA of 4.4 (of a possible 5), the martial arts black belt from Connecticut was so certain that BU was the school for her that she applied for early decision. Horenstein, who will enter the School of Management, says she wanted an education to prepare her for the era of globalization, and “no other school seemed to be as sincerely global as BU.”

That achievers like Horenstein flock to BU (the Class of 2015 was the most academically competitive in the school’s history) is not happenstance. It’s the payoff from the University’s years-long drive to reach the forefront of American universities. In an era when schools lure students with nonacademic amenities, from dining halls to snazzy dorms, BU has found that telegraphing its top-caliber faculty and classroom experience draws top-caliber students, a strategy formalized in a five-year communications plan launched in 2008.

In last year’s film about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, The Social Network, Zuckerberg tells his girlfriend that she doesn’t have to study, “because you go to BU.” The audience may have chuckled, but the joke was antiquated. Provost Jean Morrison says that since 2003, when 71 percent of applicants for the freshman class were accepted, admission to the University has grown more selective: the percentage for the Class of 2015 dropped to 49.

“We’d like to get that down” further, Morrison says. Selectivity breeds quality, according to the provost, because “the harder a place is to get into, the more desirable it is” to quality applicants. In 2001, less than half of the freshman class had a high school GPA exceeding 3.5. By 2011, the figure was 60 percent, says Kelly Walter, assistant vice president and executive director of admissions.

“We’re an institution that is keenly committed to increasing the quality of the students here,” says President Robert A. Brown, who believes that top students are attracted to universities that help them get their degrees and land top graduate schools or jobs, and BU has “put a big focus on student success—retention and graduation.”

In 1993, 69 percent of BU undergraduates completed their degrees; the figure is 92 percent today. “There are very few universities of the size and scale of Boston University that are in that kind of ether,” says Brown, citing the new Center for Student Services, which will pool BU’s panoply of tutoring and career advising services, as evidence of the commitment “to help students navigate a big university” to graduation and beyond.

Brown points out that the greater numbers of students completing their education builds a stronger community and allows faculty to form more productive relationships with students.

The Brown-mandated five-year plan remade the University’s communications with students, their families, and high schools, drawing on feedback from focus groups of parents of applicants and high school guidance counselors around the country, as well as from an online survey of high school seniors who had accepted BU’s admission offer and some who had declined. The bottom-line question: Aside from financial aid concerns, why did you choose, or not choose, BU?

That research revealed that students who came “felt strongly that the quality of academics at Boston University was superior, while students who declined our offer of admission believed their preferred college had superior academics,” says Walter. BU had already augmented “the existing, substantial faculty base with more substantial faculty,” Morrison says. With its five-year plan, the University took steps to ensure that perception of that rigorous academic program caught up with reality. Among those steps:

New communications. About 300,000 inquiries about BU from prospective students around the world flood in annually, says Walter. For the first time this year, inquiring students received a barrage of literature telegraphing BU’s academic prowess, starting with We Dare You, the admissions office’s hallmark guidebook. Its 30-second overview calls BU the place for those who like “the idea of being challenged, pushed, pulled, confounded, and inspired by Pulitzer Prize winners, Fulbright Scholars, and MacArthur Fellows.”

Foreign students got a similar brochure, and outreach is intense. Walter, who helps recruit students in China, is learning Mandarin and adorns her office with Chinese books, a Chinese tea set, and a Chinese fan.

Rolling out the welcome mat. Because students who visit BU are more likely to apply, the push is on to show them the campus. Five years ago, BU hosted just over 49,000 prospects; in 2011 there were more than 65,000, many drawn by newly implemented recruitment programs. Three years ago, the University debuted a workshop to demystify the intimidating admissions process. High school juniors and their parents come to campus and are given three applications (composites of real applicants) to evaluate, playing admissions officer for a day. “It’s to help them better understand how we make our admissions decisions,” Walter says.

For two years, the University has had special visiting days just for seniors finalizing their college applications, “to allow them to take a much closer look at the University than just coming in for a tour,” she says. Those visitors hear from, among others, Charles Dellheim, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of history and founding director of the Kilachand Honors College for high-performing freshmen.

Expanded recruitment. Five years ago, BU recruiters visited 187 high schools in California, the University’s third largest feeder state. This past fall, they hit 287. In number-one-feeder Massachusetts, where the number of high school graduates has dropped, BU has maintained its “market share” in the last five years by boosting from 87 to 220 the number of schools visited. During the same time, recruiters increased their visits abroad from 33 countries to 46.

To better recruit students from under-resourced high schools, the University is increasingly partnering with groups like A Better Chance. “Five years ago, we worked with 11 community-based organizations; this past year, 73,” says Walter. And BU has added a multicultural weekend, housing minority students with a host student in dorms and chauffeuring them by complimentary buses from New York City.

In short, says Brown, “we’re not your old BU.” Which is not to say that connections with the past aren’t still a pipeline for high-caliber students. Rena Gluck gained early-decision admission this coming fall to Sargent College, the school her mother graduated from in 1984. Gluck comes to BU with a 4.31 GPA and a phone book–size list of high school extracurricular activities, among them captain of the varsity volleyball team, student council member, technical director for plays, youth groups leader, and hospital volunteer.

What attracted the busy Marylander to BU, she says, was a perfect fit of student and program. After researching Sargent’s athletic training and physical therapy instruction, “I knew that was the program I wanted and that BU was my top choice.”

Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

33 Comments on Record Number of Applicants to Class of 2016

  • Mary Lewellyn on 01.18.2012 at 10:42 am

    Thought this was interesting…

  • Kimberly on 01.18.2012 at 11:17 am

    Reading this makes me worry if I can get in

    • Joe on 01.18.2012 at 12:10 pm

      Being realistic, as long as you don’t have a 2.5 GPA or something, you probably can. I’m a member of the class of 2015 and you’d be surprised…if they all met the benchmarks the administration claims they did for our class (really high GPA, etc.) then I’m a monkey’s uncle. Just remember, all college acceptance processes are holistic. As long as you’re well-balanced, you’ll probably make the cut.

      • Class of 2013 Student on 01.19.2012 at 12:13 pm

        If you have a 2.5 in highschool expect that the number you leave with from BU will be even lower and employment impossible unless you spend your first two years in CGS catching up.

      • Pooja on 11.17.2012 at 11:11 pm

        I’m a junior in highschool. Have about a 3.5 GPA. Do a ton of Sports and Extra Curricular activities, but only got an 1800 on my SAT. Do I still have a chance of making it into BU’s school of Communications, specifically looking towards public relations?

      • Truman on 09.02.2013 at 11:53 pm

        2.5 GPA is not going to do it.

  • Dela on 01.18.2012 at 12:00 pm

    I like the sound of this. :)

  • Boomerang on 01.18.2012 at 12:16 pm

    “The audience may have chuckled, but the joke was antiquated. Provost Jean Morrison says that since 2003, when 71 percent of applicants for the freshman class were accepted, admission to the University has grown more selective: the percentage for the Class of 2015 dropped to 49.

    “We’d like to get that down” further, Morrison says. Selectivity breeds quality, according to the provost, because “the harder a place is to get into, the more desirable it is” to quality applicants.”

    This really makes me worried. There’s bad reasoning going on here. A university shouldn’t work to make itself merely desirable. It should work to be at the forefront of research and teaching. And the percentages going down don’t mean much. It could just be an artifact of more low quality applicants. Selectivity is necessary but not sufficient.

    • Andrew on 01.18.2012 at 5:39 pm

      Nail on the head.

      • Andrew on 01.18.2012 at 5:42 pm

        Furthermore, Barlow writes that “nonacademic amenities” are what other schools utilize to entice students, but Boston University does the exact same. Student Village 2? Not a highlight of the campus?

    • Class of 2013 Student on 01.19.2012 at 12:16 pm

      I agree with your reasoning, but BU already has those things. Generally BU lags only behind MIT in research in many of its schools and has been ranked to have some of the best professors in the country in its professional schools (SMG, LAW, COM ect.). What BU does not have is a high selectivity ranking and for that is suffers greatly in the rankings (but who really cares after they get admitted anyway?) What they do need to improve, however, is the quality of CAS as a whole.

  • Joe on 01.18.2012 at 12:20 pm

    They should publish the acceptance rate without CGS. Would be closer to 30%, no?

    • Overlord of the Underclassmen on 01.18.2012 at 4:35 pm


  • unappreciated admin on 01.18.2012 at 12:24 pm

    We sure don’t seem to have problems pulling in students…..So does that mean the administrative staff will see some nice salary increases this year?? HAHA I kid myself!

  • Gary on 01.18.2012 at 12:37 pm

    I loved my time at BU, graduating in 1970. I enjoy coming back to school often and take great pride in how the school has grown and transformed itself into what it is today. To all who are responsible, keep up the good work!

  • Alum on 01.18.2012 at 1:39 pm

    It’s pretty sad that BU needs to accept over 20,000+ to fill 4,500 spots. The administration needs to be spending more time recruiting better teachers, cutting CGS, and expanding its academics instead of building skyscraper dorms (with monthly rent reaching $1,500 I might add) and fancy dining halls if the university actually wants a competitive freshmen class. The fact remains that the majority of the high caliber of ‘accepted students’ comes from the 15,000 that applied to BU as a safety school and chose to go elsewhere.

  • Ryan on 01.18.2012 at 2:26 pm

    As a first year graduate student here, I can see why many would choose not to come. There’s simply better schools, far nicer campuses, etc. It was my back up school, and I have a feeling it was many others’ as well. I intend to move on after my second year.

  • CGS Student on 01.18.2012 at 3:20 pm

    YAY to the Class of 2016!!


    Cutting CGS isn’t a solution to just toss around. A few of the best professors are AT CGS and the program’s academic goals should not be overlooked. I chose BU BECUASE of CGS. If CGS didn’t exist, I probably wouldn’t have even applied to BU. The stigma of CGS students not being competitive concerns me.

    • Overlord of the Underclassmen on 01.18.2012 at 4:36 pm

      But it is a FACT that CGS has lower standards of acceptance.

    • Class of 2013 Student on 01.19.2012 at 12:19 pm

      CGS does an amazing job of taking not so great students and significantly improving them. This is by far a commendable academic goal for BU (not to mention the high revenue CGS brings in). BU, however, suffers in the rankings for its much lower selectivity ratings. It is up to you to decide which you think is more important for a university.

  • gradstudent on 01.18.2012 at 3:25 pm

    Well the campus is already incredibly crowded. They better get crackin’ on making larger and more decent women’s locker rooms at the gym to accommodate all the new students!

  • Nathan on 01.18.2012 at 3:30 pm

    Regarding building programs at BU: Recruiting better teachers and expanding academics are done by different staff than the ones that supervise building projects. Given the increased large alumni donations in the last few years, I believe the buildings are paying for themselves as well as serving as a recruitment tool. – – – – You hit the nail on the head with the safety school numbers. BU Marketing may have changed the perception of BU as a safety school, but the reality of 75% of accepted students choosing other schools pretty much proves BU was not the first choice and often not the second choice for most student applicants.

  • Rich on 01.18.2012 at 4:01 pm

    As a graduate of BU in the 1950’s, I am very proud of the many recent accomplishments at the university and count myself as a loyal alumnus. I don’t think, however, that knocking “the old BU” – so fashionable in the previous administration- is helpful. We were groups of first-generation, mostly commuting and working students. Many of us went on to graduate schools and served as ministers, social workers, educators, and small business operators. For us, BU was the only option – and a good one!

  • mark cannon SMG 79; MED 84 on 01.18.2012 at 4:49 pm

    As a proud Alum and Western Ma Bay Stater I am thrilled that the pulse
    of my University is growing stronger and stronger.
    My education enabled me opportunities I never imagined !
    Keep up the extraordinary effort; don’t compromise integrity……

  • Tania on 01.18.2012 at 5:43 pm

    It’s great to read this article, but it would be nice to hear that BU is not only working to improve recruitment, but also that it’s working harder to give its students a great education. I wish BU would take this same strategy of using surveys and reaching out to students with its currents students rather than just its perspective students.

    • A on 01.19.2012 at 9:49 am

      They do. Especially senior year when you take a senior survey on your experience and what can be improved, etc.

    • BU Class of 2010 on 09.23.2012 at 10:10 am

      BU offers surveys to its students not only in their senior year as mentioned above, but following every course for every professor at the end of each semester. In addition to that, Dean Elmore frequently asks for input from the student body about ways to enhance academic and residential life on campus – they DOS Office is very responsive to student requests (for example, changing the hours that the BU Bus runs for campus safety reasons – this was actually a request made by students).

      Additionally, while it’s disappointing to admit, rankings DO matter and continued prestige at BU will allow them to draw in top faculty from around the world as well (not just students!) to provide a unique and superior quality of education. it’s extremely difficult to tackle so many agendas at once and I give BU a lot of credit for stepping it up within the past few years. My mother was an SON’88 graduate and was originally pretty disappointed that I was interested in BU – now her attitude has changed entirely after seeing the improvements and administrative changes that have taken place on campus. My education at BU contributed largely to my pursuit of graduate studies, and I am confident that I was admitted to a nationally top ranked program because of the well-rounded undergraduate education I received at BU.

  • matt on 01.18.2012 at 6:47 pm

    My father went to BU in the early 50s on the GI bill. The education he recieved helped pull a young man born during the depression out of poverty, and onto a very succesful business career.My son is now a sudent at BU. I know that my father was very proud of BU degree and a think my son is getting a fine education.
    Like life, ones college experience will be what you make of it.

  • DC on 01.18.2012 at 8:34 pm

    BU was my first choice. I am always disappointed that BU doesn’t rank higher in the US News ranking. Whether or not they should, people take those rankings very seriously and it matters. Other evaluate your education based on those numbers – particularly in other regions of the country. I have heard that BU doesn’t participate in the rankings but maybe they should.

  • Jerry on 01.18.2012 at 9:15 pm

    This is jaw-dropping. I have a Master’s degree from BU, and this is having never set foot on the campus (it was via the overseas program in Germany). The quality of academics was nothing short of superb, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that my BU experience changed my life. How much? I work at an agency that specializes in, oh, shall we say, international relations, and when I select interns, anyone with a degree or earning a degree from BU automatically goes to the top of the pile.

  • bumom15 on 01.19.2012 at 6:09 am

    All I know is that BU can definitely hold its own academically. My daughter, a freshman, has friends who go to both Harvard & UPenn, and they were surprised how difficult some of her intro courses were compared to theirs in the same subjects. I am confident that BU will give my daughter a world-class, high quality, well-rounded education!

  • joe on 02.01.2012 at 12:01 pm

    To be honest, recent demographic shifts have changed to make it seem as if you can’t get anywhere without a college degree. Sure there are examples like Bill Gates, but overall more and more high schoolers in America are aiming for college. It’s probably a main reason why the quantity and quality of students have been rising.

  • Carol J. Cartmell on 09.10.2013 at 9:23 pm

    I graduated from BU (’73 in nursing). I moved back to the mid west a year later. I was the only BSN graduate in a moderate size hospital at that time. I quickly became a supervisor, and then on to graduate school here in Dayton (Suma cum laude). I retired a few years ago as a professor of nursing. I want to also state that I graduated from a one room school in rural north central Wi. BU gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to excel at something that was dear to my heart-serving and caring for the sick. I did not have the highest SAT, but during my interview their was not a dry eye around the large conference as they listened to my story of what it meant to me to come to BU. It changed my whole life in ways most people could not comprehend. BU didn’t change me for a few years, but for a lifetime. The ripple effects are immeasurable over my 45 years as a nurse educator. There are some things that just can’t be measured or put a number on. The BU educators around that large conference table made an excellent choice when they admitted a young country girl full of dreams. I promised them I would not let them down and I don’t think I did. I made the Deans list and graduated with honors. I am proud of BU and would put BU high on the list of outstanding universities. I pray our young tech generation does not lose the heart in its education process.

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