Biggest and Brightest

August 23, 2003

Margo Adler, <i>Hullabaloo</i> senior staff writer

As Tulane gears up for its 2003 fall semester, it also prepares to welcome its largest freshman class in University history. With 1,680 new students, this year's group of freshmen has exceeded past classes' statistics and enrollment numbers. Twenty-three percent of newly accepted students officially enrolled at Tulane for this fall, shocking Tulane administrators.

"We were surprised that so many people took up our offer," Dean of Admissions Richard Whiteside said. "I think it has to do with the growing academic reputation at Tulane University. We've become a much more selective institution and the college-bound see it as one of the best institutions in the country."

This year's freshman class not only boasts the largest enrollment ever, but also the best academic statistics, with an average SAT score of 1330. In addition, 67 percent of freshmen graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. The academic superiority of the incoming class is a growing trend for Tulane.

"For the past five years, each class has been better academically than the one before it," Whiteside said. Forty-eight percent of this year's freshman class is male and 52 percent female. Admissions officials would like to see the number of in-state attendees increase. Currently, 14.18 percent of the group comes from Louisiana. "We'd like to have more Louisiana residents," Whiteside said, "but those who qualify from this state, like any other state, have a lot of options. Often [students] want to leave home and go to another state. Any highly selective institution has trouble getting students from their own backyard."

As for the rest of the group, 7.29 percent of the freshmen are from Florida, 9.1 percent from Texas, 3.73 percent from the Mid-south, 8.28 from the Southeast, 29.3 percent from the Northeast, 15 percent from the Midwest, 11.15 percent from the West and 2.91 percent from elsewhere. Out of the 50 states, South Dakota is the only state not represented in this year's group of freshmen. Tulane Admissions sifted through 14,114 applications for the 2003 fall term.

Acceptance decisions were based on a variety of factors, with the most weight on secondary school records. Admissions counselors consider secondary school GPA, types of classes taken (Honors, AP or regular), subject preparation (especially in Math and English), rank in class and letters of recommendation. Recommendations are generally reliable, according to Whiteside, because teachers and counselors usually refuse to recommend a student whom they feel they cannot vouch for. Although nearly all recommendations received present the student in a positive light, Whiteside said shorter letters tend to indicate a lower level of confidence in the student's abilities.

Other factors considered for applicants include SAT or ACT scores, extracurricular activities and the answers provided for the questions on the application form and the essay. The application is judged on the whole, and "there's no threshold criteria for any one of those [factors]," Whiteside said.

Interviews are provided to students who request them, but these are purely informative and not considered in the selection process, in order to avoid disadvantaging those unable to visit the campus. There are no geographic parameters in the selection process and admissions counselors are encouraged to focus only on academic criteria.

Responding to concerns that allowing so many new students into Tulane will overpopulate campus, Whiteside said, "With one class this size it doesn't present a huge problem, but if we were continuing to allow classes this size, we'd be in trouble."

Administrators are working to restructure the acceptance and enrollment process to bring next year's freshman class size back to the goal of 1,575. "But this is a volatile business," Whiteside said. "Students are judging from among offers from six to eight universities, and there's no sure way to predict which one they'll choose." Last year, 1,553 new freshmen enrolled at Tulane.

"What's remarkable about [this year's numbers]," Whiteside said, "is the size and quality of the class. [It's indicative of] Tulane's growing reputation. If you were to look at Tulane's applicant pool from 10 years ago, most of the students who were admissible then would not be admissible now."

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