Bucking a growing national trend, Northwestern saw a 15 percent increase in early decision applicants this year, said Associate Provost Michael Mills.
There were 1,712 early decision applications for the Class of 2013 compared to 1,484 last year. Even more significant was the 60 percent increase in minority student applications, Mills said. As of Wednesday, 74 black students and 98 Hispanic students applied early, compared to 46 and 62 students last year, respectively.
A study released in September by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that one in three American colleges showed a decrease in early decision applications for 2007. Only 25 percent reported decreases in 2006.
Joyce Smith, the association's CEO, attributed this to an increasing number of colleges offering early action applications. Early action programs are not binding - students are still able to apply and attend other universities, Smith said.
The decrease in early decision applications will likely continue this year, she said.
"The current economic situation will press a lot of families in their ability to pay for college," Smith said. "We will probably see more applications go toward public colleges and universities."
Mills said the increase in applications at NU surprised him.
"Especially in today's economy, we've been concerned about the opposite happening," he added.
He attributed the increase of both early decision applicants and minority students to improved outreach efforts.
This includes a recent partnership with QuestBridge, a non-profit organization which pairs selective universities with high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds. NU received 548 QuestBridge applications and will admit 20 to 25 students, offering 15 of them a four-year, full-ride scholarship, Mills said.
NU has also waived application fees for students from Chicago Public Schools and implemented two new programs that target black and Hispanic students, Why NU and Symposium. Starting in December, the university will also sponsor current students to recruit in their hometowns during breaks.
At NU, the early and regular applicant pools are virtually indistinguishable, Mills said. Some universities, including Harvard and Princeton, cut early decision programs because of substantial financial discrepancies between early decision and regular decision applicants.
Jim Conroy, chairman of post-high school counseling at New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, said he has seen an increase in early decision applicants over the past few years.
Conroy said he encourages his seniors to apply early only if financial need is not a factor in their college selection.
"For a lot of students, early decision is the only hook some of our students have if they aren't a legacy or an underrepresented minority," he said. "If there's any doubt at all about their financial situation, then we tell them not to do it because it's a binding decision."
Monica Magda, a senior at Neshannock Jr./Sr. High School in New Castle, Pa., applied early to NU.
"My brother goes to NU, so I've visited the campus before and I knew it was exactly where I wanted to go," Magda said. "Financial aid was not a factor in my decision, but if it had been, I probably wouldn't have applied early."