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Getting in: A Little Tougher Every Year

Purposeful action by administration raises the bar


A strategic effort to raise the bar for admission to the University is yielding greater numbers of applicants to the freshman class and increasingly selective admissions. This year, for example, BU saw a record 57,433 students apply to the Class of 2020, as well as a 108 percent increase over last year in students applying for early decision.

“The numbers reflect the happy confluence of our growing reputation for excellence with prospective students’ dreams and aspirations,” says President Robert A. Brown. “I’m grateful for all the great members of our community who work so hard to deliver quality, quality that translates into very encouraging results in our recruiting and retention. The interest so many promising students have in attending Boston University is heartening.”

University Provost Jean Morrison says the plan to boost selectivity was put in place in 2010, when the administration decided to “systematically decrease the size of the incoming fall freshman class” by 100 students per year. The targeted size of the incoming class arriving in fall 2016, for example, is 3,500 students. Also, says Morrison, for the most recent admissions season—fall 2016—the University added a second round of early decision, a move that doubled the number of students applying for early consideration. “This allows us a second chance to select students who are guaranteed to come to BU if they are accepted,” Morrison says. “Early decision is the best way for students who know they want to come to BU to get in.”

The University’s growing stature and quality are attracting a more talented pool of applicants, she says. “As a result, and in conjunction with the changes we’ve made to our admissions processes, admission to our incoming fall freshman class is increasingly more selective,” she says. “We have made strategic decisions that have affected the process and the growing reputation of the University…so BU is an increasingly competitive place. We have moved away from being a safety school—we are now the first choice for a larger and higher quality group of students.

“We are extremely pleased to see this continued increase, both in the volume and academic caliber of students applying to Boston University,” the provost says. “These figures are very much a reflection of BU’s enhanced recognition for excellence, from our sustained rise in national and international rankings to the seminal scholarship and foundational research discoveries that earn daily attention for our faculty and students.”

Kelly Walter, associate vice president and executive director of admissions, says she is impressed not only by the size of the pool, but also by the applicants’ academic and overall achievements—their average SAT score is 1913, and they have an average GPA of A-. “We will be making some very difficult choices over the next few months,” Walter says. “It’s a good problem to have, but very challenging given the caliber of the pool.”

This year’s applicants come from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa. The top five states students applied from are California, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut. And the pool is more ethnically and racially diverse—17 percent of applicants are underrepresented minority students.

About 22 percent of the applicants are international, hailing from 153 countries. The top five foreign countries BU received applications from are China, India, South Korea, Canada, and Taiwan. Applications also came in this year from countries that weren’t on last year’s list, including Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Angola, Eritrea, Namibia, Antigua, and Lesotho. “BU is definitely a global university, and we can see that in the applicant pool,” Walter says.

While two rounds of early decision are common at small liberal arts schools, Walter says, the tactic is new to major research universities like BU. (New York University is BU’s only peer institution offering two rounds, she says.) One of the advantages of early decision is that Admissions will have enrolled 30 percent of the Class of 2020 before students applying for regular admission are notified in late March.

She adds that she has seen a jump in the number of prospective students who expressed interest in learning more about BU this application season. Nearly 80,000 visitors passed through the Alan and Sherry Leventhal Center last year, she says, and attendance was up at the dozens of information sessions that BU Admissions hosts around the world.

Walter also commends the Admissions team for stepping up its social media outreach, using hashtags like #BUEarlyBirds and #BU2020 to connect with students, hosting virtual events, and profiling students on the Admissions Facebook page. “People responded very positively,” she says. “With social media, you want to create buzz and excitement for students who are leaning in the direction of applying to BU.”

“The ability to combine rigorous academics with practical experience (internships, research, community service), as well as the ability to combine intellectual interests, is very attractive to students today,” says Laurie Pohl, vice president for enrollment and student affairs. “The steps we’ve taken—and continue to take—to access all of what BU has to offer is one of the reasons why interest in attending BU continues to grow.

Amy Laskowski, Senior Writer at Boston University Marketing & Communications editorial department
Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

19 Comments on Getting in: A Little Tougher Every Year

  • Huh? on 02.16.2016 at 8:54 am

    As long as MIT, BC, and Harvard stay across the river or down the B line, BU will continue to be a safety school. I will never understand the rush to become an elite institution.

    • Smarter Child on 02.16.2016 at 9:19 am

      So you are saying that BU shouldn’t push to be elite?

      • Zachary Bos on 02.16.2016 at 10:55 am

        It seems to me we might judge the quality of an institution in terms other than how the goalposts for admission have been rejiggered.

    • Reply on 02.16.2016 at 12:57 pm

      BC is now less competitive than BU.

    • not sure about one of those schools.. on 02.16.2016 at 1:01 pm

      I don’t think BC should be mentioned in the same sentence as MIT and Harvard. That’s just disrespectful towards those institutions.

    • BU student on 02.16.2016 at 1:08 pm

      I’m really disappointed to hear uneducated comments based on social media, statistics and brand names. I’m a BU student and I could care less whether BU becomes elite or not. I believe one’s capabilities are not based on a school brand. I believe one’s capabilities are masured upon the individual. At this “safety school” as you refer to @huh? I learned the value of working with a global community. I have learned the meaning of being a decent human being and respect others for whom they are. Students here come from different backgrounds just like the institutions across the river. We are all students and yes we are all different, but that’s life and that’s okay too. However, I would not label any of our peer’s institutions based on statistics or what others say..because I know that not the real deal.
      BU senior
      Have a wonderful day everyone and be kind.. It cost zero money.

      • Kitty on 02.16.2016 at 5:38 pm

        Bravo, BU senior!

      • Jim in New Orleans on 02.16.2016 at 9:14 pm

        Awesome response, BU Student! You represent well.

      • bu frosh on 03.19.2016 at 4:26 pm


    • Chen on 02.16.2016 at 1:32 pm

      How do you define “elite”? There are over 2,500 4 year institutions in the US. Are only the top 20 “elite”? If so, that’s a very small percent.

      Regardless, BU and BC are now very competitive with each other. Maybe you’re a bit behind on current higher education demographics

    • Alum on 02.16.2016 at 1:52 pm

      The biggest reason BU continues to become more competitive and “elite” is because the quality of education, and the university experience has improved tremendously.

      When I was a student in 2003, the student to faculty ratio was 16:1, education programs were weaker, the facilities were much worse, students were pretty unhappy with the administration (this was before Brown), and major research wasn’t as strong. Also, fianancial aid for students with needs was worse (it’s still not ideal, but better than it used to be). Just in the four years I was there, the university experience improved remarkably.

      Because of all of these changes, more students want to attend BU, and the dropout rate has fallen (which lowers the freshman class size while keeping the overal student population constant). If you care about the university, and the students at BU, then you should want the university to improve. If the university improves, more students will want to attend – it’s as simple as that

  • Disappointed on 02.16.2016 at 11:21 am

    It’s just difficult to hear that even more people are kept out of the education system for colleges are so focused on needing to be the best. Why can’t we just offer quality education for everyone? This should not be a business, education should not be a commodity. Rankings don’t mean anything when most people don’t even have the chance to really succeed. This is just glorifying the rich and wealthy for being rich and wealthy while not letting the poor get the chance. The ironic part is, I learned this at BU.

    • Agreed on 02.16.2016 at 1:27 pm

      Exactly, applicants are more than their GPA and SAT scores. Which repeatedly favor wealthier students. Very disappointed that BU is just continuing the status quo. Also for a school the size of BU, that percentage of unrepresented students is very disappointing.

      • Sam Winston on 02.16.2016 at 2:37 pm

        What do you propose? BU can only accommodate a certain number of students from a facilities and staffing standpoint. If the number of applicants increases, inherently the acceptance rate will fall. Admitting everyone only waters down the quality of student who is admitted to BU. At some level, the onus is on the student to achieve both in and out of the classroom prior to applying to college. Where BU can improve is seeking out quality applicants from minority high schools and better targeting financial aid to those minority students who’ve proved they meet the admission requirements. But to unilaterally allow everyone into college regardless of merit is a fast track to making a bachelor’s degree irrelevant. Students have to prove their academic merit, while BU and other colleges must do better to close the financial restriction gap.

    • Anonymous on 02.16.2016 at 7:29 pm

      It’s a shame that you want your degree to be devalued then; I do not.

  • BU on 02.16.2016 at 12:41 pm

    BU is and will always be better than BC and Harvard, maybe not MIT though.

    • Tom on 02.17.2016 at 4:13 pm

      Funniest comment I have read in a long time.

  • Anonymous on 02.17.2016 at 9:40 am

    The rankings are a total sham because they don’t count transfers or freshmen who enter in the January term. The whole push to get BU to an “elite” status is simply to justify the ever increasing tuition and fees that have reached a ludicrous level. But, hey, if you want to charge $65,000 – $70,000 to students annually, then you better be “elite” or how can you possibly justify that amount of money? At the same time that Brown is playing the numbers game to increase the school’s ranking, he is also slowing chipping away at the liberal arts and at general education by creating a task force to redefine what courses provided “critical thinking skills” (all, pretty much in his task force’s definition). It’s a shame people and it is sad that you are all falling for it. The flim flam man is earning 1.8 million in salary and pulling off the greatest show on earth by making you think that BU is becoming an elite school where you should be happy to drop $65,000 or more a year for what will eventually be simply a technical education rather than a university education. Right now BU is a GOOD school and some of its colleges are truly excellent. It has its advantages in being an intercity university and also its disadvantages (in being large) — but ultimately students get out of their university experience what they are willing to put into it, no matter what the cost or what the rankings are.

  • FromtheMiddleClass on 02.21.2016 at 3:19 pm

    Students from the Middle Class find it difficult to apply Early Decision to ANY institution. Sticker price is out of our range, and we don’t know what kind of financial awards we will get. Even if we get into BU, we may not be able to go (> $150K in student loans may not be the best path). So, we apply Early Action to our alternate schools and apply Regular Decision here….so even though BU is one of our top choices, we must wait.

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