These 4 universities enjoying spike in applications

Although some institutions are struggling to find interested students, Harvard, Brown and Tufts all see increases in those who want to join their Class of 2025.
By: | January 28, 2021
Getty Images

Several top colleges and universities are reporting that their admissions applications have soared to record numbers, including New York University, which topped 100,000 for the first time.

Reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic, NYU was one of many universities that instituted a number of changes in its admissions process, including making standardized test scores optional, increasing financial aid and pushing back its application deadline. The decision to essentially throw out the test benchmark – as more than 1,600 colleges and universities have done – has presented an opportunity for students who may have considered it a barrier to being accepted.

Still, not every institution is enjoying the riches of applicants. Early applicants for Federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) were down in the fall and notably lagged for first-generation students. Students and families have expressed concern at having to pay full price for an education that might be remote instead of the traditional collegiate experience. Some potential applicants, especially those from underserved and hard-hit communities, are being affected by other decisions related to COVID-19.

Nonetheless, at many of the larger universities and the top-tier institutions, getting interested students hasn’t been a problem. NYU in fact has seen 14 straight years of increases in applications and 2020-21 has been no different, other than the ways it has had to connect with prospective students. A more holistic approach has only helped to boost numbers.

“Although the pandemic deprived us of many of the tools of a regular year’s admissions process — on campus visits, tours, in-person info sessions, meeting with students face-to-face at college nights all over the country — in 2020 NYU was nevertheless able to convey clearly issues that mattered to applicants: our care for the well-being of the University community; our persistent academic strength across a wide range of disciplines; and our commitment to serving our students and fulfilling our educational mission,” Andrew Hamilton, president of NYU, said in a statement.

Other elite universities are seeing their application numbers soar as well.

The Harvard Crimson reported late last week that Harvard University has seen a 42% rise in applications – to a record 57,000 overall. For many hopeful students, that doesn’t mean they have any better chance of getting in, even with scores being test optional. More than 10,000 of those applied for early action during the fall and less than 8% were accepted, the lowest in Harvard’s history.

Another Ivy League School, Brown University in Rhode Island, also has enjoyed this cycle and the pool of students to choose from.

The Brown Daily Herald reported that more than 46,000 applied for entry to the university, topping last year’s mark by 10,000. As with Harvard, Brown made test scores optional this year, which likely increased the number of students applying to be in the Class of 2025. But like Harvard, its final selections likely won’t increase by much over previous years.

Brown’s student newspaper noted that applications from rural areas – a target of Brown’s admissions efforts – increased by nearly a quarter. First-generation student applicants, who have tumbled nationally since last year, were up by a third at Brown.

One area at Brown that stayed flat was the number of those students of color who applied (just under 50%). NYU reported 22% increases in Black and Latinx student applications as well a huge spike from Native Americans and Alaskan Natives (39%).

Another top school that saw a big increase from underrepresented communities was Tufts University outside Boston. It was so significant that Tufts Now reported that this cycle is the first in which American students of color outpaced white students.

Applications from Latinx students increased by 42%, and Black students rose by nearly 40%. American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders soared by 35%. Applications from Black students, according to the campus publication, have soared by almost 90% since 2018.

Like its neighbors above, Tufts enjoyed a 35% overall increase in applications, according to Tufts Now.

As with many elite universities, Tufts can be costly to attend, with tuition hovering near $59,000 plus room and board. However, the quality of education offerings combined with the university’s commitment to offer “100% demonstrated need for all students” make it a viable option for those who may have considered it out of reach. It offers two early-decision options for students – one in November and one in January that coincides with its regular admissions period.


Read more from UB: How the University of Rochester and the College of the Holy Cross approached admissions during the pandemic.