Karen W. Arenson
March 22, 2002
While applications at many selective colleges around the country grew this year, New York University, Columbia and Barnard College all experienced declines, with some admissions officials blaming Sept. 11 jitters by families uneasy about sending their children to New York City.
For Columbia, it was the first decrease in more than 10 years. Total applications fell 2.4 percent to 16,157. Eric J. Furda, executive director of undergraduate admissions at Columbia, said the biggest declines were in applications from California and applications to the engineering school. Columbia College had 14,129 applicants, 35 more than last year.
Applications to Barnard College dropped about 10 percent, after an 11 percent increase in early decision applications last fall.
At N.Y.U., applications fell more than 3 percent to 29,500, down from 30,500 last year, which was also down slightly from the previous year.
Marsha Gardner, a college counselor at the College Preparatory School in Oakland, Calif., said that the number of its students who applied to Columbia and Barnard this year had not changed, but that the number applying to N.Y.U. had “dropped off considerably,” probably because of its proximity to the World Trade Center site.
At many other selective universities, the torrent of applications continued to grow this year, spurred in part by the continued growth in the number of college-age students. Harvard had about 500 more applications than last year, bringing its total to 19,520. Yale reported a 2.6 percent increase, to 15,200. Applications at Dartmouth grew 5 percent to 10,191.
But the number of applications to some universities outside New York City also declined or remained flat. At Wesleyan in Connecticut, applications fell 8 percent to 6,465. At the University of Pennsylvania, they slipped 1.5 percent to 18,776, with much of the decrease in engineering, as at Columbia. Cornell received 21,486 applications — just 33 fewer than last year.
Some admissions advisers at consulting firms and high schools said students had pulled back from New York, especially N.Y.U., which had to close some residence halls temporarily because they were close to ground zero.
“Prior to Sept. 11, N.Y.U. was all the rage for our Seattle-area students who were looking eastward,” said Andrew Bryan, a college consultant with O’Shaughnessy & Bryan Associates. “Between ‘Felicity’ and ‘Rent,’ we were talking about Washington Square weekly in my office. Now? Rarely a mention.”
But Jane McClure, a college counselor with McClure, Mallory & Baron in San Francisco, said that no parents she advised had told their children not to go east, and several students applied early to Barnard, Columbia and N.Y.U. because they thought they might have an advantage if others pulled back.
“The real test will be what students actually decide to do on May 1,” she said.
Bev Taylor, a New York college consultant, Ivy Coach, said that some of her students were still applying to New York City colleges such as Columbia, Barnard, N.Y.U. and Fordham, and that those colleges “are still top choices.”
Susan Semonite Waters, the college counselor at the Ranney School in Tinton Falls, N.J., said that none of her school’s 34 seniors revised their college lists after Sept. 11, although some changed their essay topics to include issues like patriotism.
Not all New York area colleges experienced a drop in applicants. At Fordham University, for example, the number of applications rose about 7 percent at both its Rose Hill Campus in the Bronx and its smaller Lincoln Center campus.
Vassar College in Poughkeepsie received 5,733 freshman applications, 43 more than last year. David M. Borus, dean of admission and financial aid at Vassar, said he was surprised that applications from abroad had risen 10 percent.
Many colleges have had bigger increases in applications from far away.
Fordham, which received 11,181 applications this year, had 516 applications from California — 122 more than last year. Karen Pellegrino, Fordham’s director of admission, said there had been gains at many Catholic colleges.
Bruce Poch, vice president and dean of admissions at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., said that applications had risen 14 percent over all, with a 36 percent increase from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
And in Brazil, Phyllis Clemensen, College Counselor at Escola Graduada, an American school in São Paulo, said that the school’s 81 seniors did not change their minds after Sept. 11; most still plan to attend colleges in the United States, including those in New York City. “Perhaps those of us who live abroad have a different view of personal safety,” she added. “Certainly street crime is more worrisome in other parts of the world than in New York City.”