The University’s 1,331-person waitlist is larger than those of many of its peer institutions in a year when Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye said economic turmoil has meant yield predictions are especially uncertain.
While peer institutions have this year — and in recent years — opted to waitlist far fewer applicants than could fit in their incoming freshman classes, Princeton has done the opposite, waitlisting more applicants than the projected size of its freshman class for next year.
Rapelye and her staff have chosen to supplement the 2,150 accepted students with 1,331 waitlisted applicants, all to fill an intended incoming freshman class of 1,300. Last year, Rapelye went even further, waitlisting 1,526 for a slightly smaller freshman class.
This year’s lengthy list “sounds like a lot, but it’s right for us,” Rapelye said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian on Tuesday. She also noted that her office expects that roughly half the waitlisted students will drop off the list by May.
In any year, the University can only make an intelligent guess about how many students to accept and how many to waitlist, but the number is even harder to predict this year in light of the recession plaguing the global economy, Rapelye said. “With the economic turmoil, we don’t know if more or fewer will accept [their offers of admission],” Rapelye said. “We haven’t seen a year like this before.”
Universities have a clear incentive to be conservative in doling out acceptance letters, since a larger-than-expected freshman class, like Stanford University experienced last fall, can result in overcrowded dorms and too-big classes.
If a university accepts more students than necessary to fill a class, the rising acceptance rates also reflect poorly on the school’s competitiveness.
While several administrators, including Rapelye and President Tilghman, have consistently emphasized that they do not consider the University’s U.S. News and World Report ranking when making decisions, the magazine does factor admission rates into its rankings.
Yet Princeton’s approach to the waitlist appears to be anomalous among its peers.
Last year, even without a recession, elite colleges across the country faced unpredictable yields following Princeton and Harvard’s elimination of Early Decision. Yale Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel said he thinks this year’s climate is more predictable, however, even in the face of economic turmoil.
“We have admitted more students already, and we feel that there is not as much uncertainty overall,” Brenzel told The Yale Daily News. Yale waitlisted 769 students this year, about 40 percent fewer than Princeton, and accepted about 10 percent fewer students than Princeton. Last year, Yale waitlisted 1,052 applicants, but only 60 of these students were later accepted.
Brenzel explained that though large waitlists can be beneficial to universities, they may also be unfair to applicants.
“We did not want to keep students in suspense where we felt it was unlikely we would make an offer,” Brenzel said of Yale’s decision to place fewer students on the waitlist this year than last year.
The numbers are even smaller at MIT, which waitlisted 454 students this year. Last year, MIT placed 700 students on the waitlist and accepted about 35 of them, The Tech reported last spring.
Cornell, meanwhile, waitlisted 3,223 students this year, according to The Cornell Daily Sun — two-and-a-half times as many students as Princeton did. This is still proportionally smaller than Princeton’s waitlist, since Cornell admitted more than three times as many applicants as Princeton did. Last year, Cornell waitlisted 3,432 students, about 40 of whom were later accepted, Associate Provost for Admissions Doris Davis told the ‘Prince’ in an e-mail.
In recent years, the Penn admission office has also waitlisted comparatively fewer students than Princeton. Last year, about 1,000 Penn applicants were waitlisted, one-quarter of the number of students accepted, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian. The Penn admission office declined to release the size of this year’s waitlist.
Last year, Harvard relied on its waitlist to fill a sizable portion of its class, accepting more than 200 applicants from its waitlist, The Crimson reported. Harvard’s admission office did not respond to requests for comment and has not released the size of its waitlist for this year.
Columbia also declined to reveal its waitlist data, a university spokesman said in an e-mail to the ‘Prince.’
Similarly, Stanford has not released the size of its waitlist for the Class of 2013. Last year, however, Stanford faced an unexpectedly high yield, leading to freshman class that was much larger than anticipated. The Stanford Daily reported last May that 1,727 students had declared their intention to matriculate, compared with a target class size of 1,670. The high yield exacerbated the housing crunch on the Palo Alto, Calif., campus.
Stanford’s admission office could not be reached for comment.
Like Rapelye, Stanford Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Richard Shaw said in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News this week that given the current economic climate, forecasting this year’s yield is especially difficult.
“You need a really good crystal ball to do this,” he said.