Early Decision applications to the University of Pennsylvania dropped this year — rather precipitously. In fact, applications were down for the Early Decision round at UPenn by a margin of 14% from this time last year. In all, 6,088 students made binding commitments to attend UPenn as members of its Class of 2024 if offered admission. This same figure stood at 7,110 for the Class of 2023, 7,074 for the Class of 2022, and 6,147 for the Class of 2021. For the Class of 2020 and all preceding classes, the Early Decision pool did not hit 6,000 applicants. So this year’s Early Decision pool at Penn is its smallest pool in a few years, a sentence we don’t write very often about the highly selective college admissions process. And so what explains the drop in applications to UPenn this Early cycle?
Explanations for Decrease in Early Decision Applications to UPenn’s Class of 2024
The “SAT Bump”
As Camila Irabien reports for The Daily Pennsylvanian in a piece entitled “Penn early decision applications drop 14% from last year,” “‘Conversations that I’ve had with colleagues is that, in general, we’re seeing early decision and some early action pools down, in terms of applications,’ Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said. Furda said the reason for the significant increase in applications until a few years ago could be what he referred to as the ‘SAT bump.’ He said the office saw an increase in applications after the redesign of the SAT in 2017. In 2018, Furda said he believed students saw themselves as more competitive applicants after the redesigned SAT scores went up ‘along certain areas of distribution.'”
But does the so-called “SAT bump” account for the rise in Early Decision applications over the last few years? It’s not like UPenn’s ED applications weren’t on the rise before the SAT redesign. Just have a look at the historical Early Decision figures at UPenn that we’ve compiled through the years: since the Class of 2007, ED applications submitted to the school have climbed from the 2,000s to the 3,000s to the 4,000s to the 5,000s to the 6,000s and 7,000s. So an “SAT bump” to explain the rise in ED applications over the last few years? We think not. In fact, we think Dean Furda isn’t giving credit where credit is due: to himself and to his team for getting better and better at encouraging students from all around the world to apply Early.
The Additional Admissions Essay Prompt
So what’s another theory to explain this year’s drop in ED applications? As Irabien writes, “Penn Admissions also changed the essay portion of the 2019-2020 application after receiving feedback from academic partners across campus who argued that the original prompt was too broad. Previously, the University required applicants to write a single essay explaining the academic and personal interests they wanted to pursue at Penn in 400 to 650 words. This year, Penn required two separate essays. The first essay asked about the applicant’s academic interests at Penn, with a maximum response of 450 words. The second essay asked about the applicant’s interests outside of academic life on Penn’s campus, with a maximum response of 200 words.”
In essence, UPenn split their 650-word, 1 essay supplement into 2 essays that add up to 650 words. Some feel that this change led to fewer applications. But we’re not so sure about that. If a student loves UPenn so much that they are considering applying Early, are they really not going to apply because they now have to answer two essay prompts instead of one — when the total word count remains the same? We really don’t think so. It just doesn’t add up for us.
Year To Year Changes in Admissions Figures Don’t Matter All That Much
So what’s to explain the drop in Early Decision applications to UPenn this year? We really don’t know. It’s certainly not the school’s US News & World Report ranking as the school rose from 8th to 6th in the latest annual ranking of colleges. It will, however, be interesting to see if other elite universities, as Dean Furda alluded, will also be reporting smaller Early pools in the days to come. And so our readers might be thinking: what does this mean? It doesn’t mean all that much. Admissions figures can indeed fluctuate from year to year. Applications can rise for ten years, then fall for a year, and rise for another several years. In the end, it doesn’t significantly impact the admissions process but do stay tuned to see if this trend holds true not only at UPenn this year but at many highly selective universities. We’ll be reporting on this data in the days to come.
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