Applicants on the rise

Dorm rooms in the Donner Dungeon, Schatz blocks, and the chance to meet Condom Man are becoming more valuable commodities as competition for admittance to Carnegie Mellon grows steadily.
On February 17, the University announced that applications are up 20 percent from last school year, with nearly 19,000 applicants competing for 1360 spots in next year’s incoming class.

According to a February 1 report by the Office of Admission, every school in Carnegie Mellon saw an increase in applicants this year. The Tepper School of Business experienced the largest application increase, up 28 percent from last year, followed closely by the Mellon College of Science with a 24 percent increase.

In addition, applications to the Information Systems program increased by 31.6 percent.

Michael Steidel, director of admission, attributes the rise to changes in both the university and the higher-education marketplace.

“Carnegie Mellon continues to grow in strength and stature as an institution internationally. That only helps us from an admission standpoint,” Steidel said. “The fact the Carnegie Mellon continues to grow and extend its influence ... will translate into more applications.”

Steidel also noted that within the last year, the Office of Admission has changed all of its communications vehicles — the office updated its website and redesigned its publications in an effort to more effectively communicate with prospective students.

In addition to institutional changes, Steidel noted that universities that practice holistic admissions — like Carnegie Mellon — are seeing increases in applications. Holistic admission is the process of taking all parts of an applicant’s background into account, not basing admission on mathematical formulas.

“Students are developing a stronger affinity or desire to attend an institution that takes more into consideration than SAT scores and class rank,” Steidel said. “Yeah, we look at class rank and
SAT scores, but we also pay attention to what a student does outside of the classroom.”

Applications to all departments have increased, which indicates that schools like computer science and programs like electrical and computer engineering and information systems are recovering well from the decrease in applications they experienced after 9/11 and the subsequent dot-com bust.

“[September 11] took the air out of the economy when the fastest growing sector was the computer industry,” Steidel said, indicating that even before 9/11, the computer industry was oversubscribed and due for a correction.

“Essentially 9/11 was the needle that burst the bubble,” Steidel said. “It’s taken years to get back to where it should be. All areas that were most sensitized to that area of the economy are just now coming back to healthy levels.”

William Elliott, vice president of enrollment, agreed, citing renewed confidence in computer industries and the economy in general as reasons for application increases.

“The whole issue with regard to the computer industry and the information systems industry is that there’s been a demand,” Elliot said, explaining that many technology companies have had to go overseas to find enough young people to meet their growing needs.

“I think students have responded to the marketplace,” Elliot said. “We have seen a resurgence, just like ourfriends at other institutions, an increase in interest in computer science and engineering.”

In addition to rejuvenating Carnegie Mellon’s technological sectors, Elliott is hopeful that the increase in applications will help the University increase the number of female students.

“We would like to probably have more women. We are always looking to increase the number of women at this place, particularly in the technical areas and science,” Elliott said. “Everyone else is looking for women in engineering as well. There’s not a huge number of women that are interested.”

The problem of too few women at Carnegie Mellon and similar institutions is not a new one. Scott Carlson, a reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education, reported in a January article that the proportion of computer science degrees awarded to women nationwide decreased from 19 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2004. When it comes to balancing the gender gap, however, Carlson cited
Carnegie Mellon as a proactive institution.

“In response to such findings, Carnegie Mellon changed the admissions policies for its School of Computer Science in 1999,” Carlson stated. “Instead of primarily looking for students who had prior programming experience, the University broadened its criteria to include students who had ambitious goals, who showed leadership skills, and, of course, who had excellent grades. After 2000, the number of women entering the computer science program went from below 10 percent to more than 30 percent and has held steady there since.”

According to Elliott, Carnegie Mellon is trying to solve its own institutional problem, but at the same time trying to solve a national problem by looking for ways to increase the number of women in science and engineering.

A 20 percent increase in applications, Elliot hopes, will do just that.