MIT Admits Record-Low 10.4 Percent of Early Applicants, Rejects Record-High 17 Percent

About one fifth of applicants, an unusually large fraction, were rejected outright in this year’s early admissions cycle, which saw a record-high of 5,684 applications and a record-low admission rate of 10.4 percent.

According to a press release on Dec. 16, MIT accepted 590 of 5,684 applicants. The admission rate was 10.4 percent, down from last year’s low of 10.7 percent.

The surprise was that MIT rejected 988, or 17.4 percent, of early applicants. In the past, that number has been around 10 percent. Last year, for instance, 497 of 5,018 early applicants were rejected. MIT defers most applicants for reconsideration during the regular admissions cycle in March. This year, 3,893 applicants, or 68.5 percent, were deferred.

Dean of Admissions Stuart Schmill ’86 said the admissions team worked harder this year to identify applicants who they felt would not be accepted in March. “It’s better for them to just know,” he said. “It’s harder to hear it, but it’s better for them in the long run.”

The record number of applicants may have been one reason it was so difficult to get a “yes” or even a “maybe” this year. MIT had 13 percent more early applicants this year, continuing a six-year upward trend. Last year, the number of early applicants jumped 28 percent. More students are applying, Schmill said, and a larger proportion are applying early.

The 590 students who were admitted early have a demographic profile similar to that of MIT undergraduates. Forty-seven percent are women, and 27 percent are minorities. Fourteen percent are the first in their families to go to college.

This year’s applicants were the first to experience the new application, which replaced the 500-word essay with three 200-word essays. They were also recruited less by the admissions office, which has had to lay off staff and cut back on trips this year by 30–50 percent because of university-wide budget cuts.

Despite the record-low admission rate, in absolute terms MIT still took more early applicants than ever — 50 more than last year. Since plans to increase freshman enrollment are stalled until MIT completes the new undergraduate dormitory at W1, the extra students that were admitted early could crowd out some of those applying in the spring. That might not be the case, Schmill said, if the increase in early applicants came from more students choosing early action over regular action, and not an increase in MIT’s total applicant pool. Schmill said he is targeting a class size of 1070, and expects the regular admission rate to be around 10 percent.

Last year, MIT had a record-low 10.2 percent regular admission rate. If the trend of declining admission rates continues, MIT is set to break that record this year.

Colleges nationwide are seeing increases in applications, and admission rates plummeted last year. The sons and daughters of the baby boomers are graduating high school, meaning that more students than ever are applying to college.

The sagging economy may have caused some students to avoid early decision programs, which prevent students from shopping around in the spring for better financial aid offers. MIT’s early action program is non-binding, so admitted students can still apply to other colleges. Uncertainty about getting in or getting financial aid may be causing students to apply to many more colleges, driving up applicant numbers and driving down admission rates.

Many other schools also got more early applicants. Stanford received 4 percent more applicants for its own non-binding early action program. Duke, which has a binding early decision program, saw a 31 percent gain. Columbia, Cornell and Dartmouth had modest increases of a couple percentage points each.

On the other hand, the number of applicants for Yale’s early action program fell by five percent. Yale does not allow its early applicants to apply early to any other schools.

Harvard, Princeton and the University of Virginia are among the selective colleges that have ended their early admissions programs, out of concerns that they unfairly benefit wealthier or more admissions-savvy students.

An earlier version of this article ran on-line on The Tech’s website on December 17, 2009.