Let’s say you were a top student in high school in Illinois last year. If you want to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, check out the Princeton Review guide. You find that Illinois is competitive in admissions, but just how competitive?
The answer actually depends on what you want to study.
The university reached its first-year class of 7,963 this fall, starting with 63,258 applicants. It accepted 28,355 of them. This is, of course, a competitive class that accepts 45 percent of applicants.
But let’s say you want to study computer science, which was the major chosen by 16 percent of applicants. Of the 10,214 applicants, the university accepted only 7 percent.
Or, say, you wanted to study business, which was the first choice of more than 10 percent of all applicants. Of the 6,771 applicants, 28 percent were accepted.
But these numbers are only part of the story.
Of those who wanted to study agriculture and environmental protection, 43 percent were accepted. 52 percent were in favor of education. For the liberal arts and sciences, the figure was 50 percent (with considerable variation among different majors).
The comprehensive school, which can enroll students who have not yet applied, is 49% enrolled. But students are not guaranteed admission to all other colleges.
These numbers don’t come from some leak in Illinois. Andy Borst, UIUC’s director of undergraduate admissions, presented them in Houston last month at the annual meeting of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling.
It was a session organized by Phil Trout, a college counselor at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota. He described a tradition at his high school of referrals (with their permission) where students attended college. He described one student who insisted that Minnetonka announce that he had been accepted to the “Ross School.” He preferred this association to the University of Michigan, home of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. (The real Ross school is called “Michigan Ross.”) Trout said he was pleased with the information shared by the research universities in the three states.
Other universities also presented data at the session showing how difficult it is to get into some of their programs.
The University of Minnesota – Twin Cities accepted 74 percent of 38,030 applicants this fall. The university accepted 30 percent of 1,075 applicants to its nursing school. Minnesota accepted 33 percent of the 7,675 students who applied to its business school.
Purdue University accepted 53 percent of the 68,309 students who applied for admission in the fall. But for engineering, the acceptance rate was 41 percent; for computer science, a rate of 33 percent was adopted; for aviation, the rate was 28 percent.
For all three of these universities, there were a number of factors that influenced admissions decisions, including whether students lived in the state, in some cases, whether they used early action and — of course — the quality of student applications. But there was no doubt that some students had a much harder time getting in than others.
What they say
The University of Minnesota views enrollment in the major “as a way to support students as they begin their college careers,” said Keri Risic, Minnesota’s interim executive director of admissions. “Students can continue to explore majors once they begin their undergraduate studies.”
She added that “students have several benefits, such as access to academic advising and career services tailored to their personal and career goals, and the ability to connect with faculty and faculty from day one. Students can also get to know other students at their faculty more quickly and build a community.”
Borst, of Illinois, said, “No system is perfect, but I appreciate our admissions process.”
He said by email that the system used by Illinois has “two important implications.” They refer to the number of professors that the university can employ in certain departments. “One: It prevents a lot of talented students from not being able to get the hours they need to graduate in time, and two [it] it helps to be efficient with time until graduation.”
“When an admissions office is charged with enrolling 7,000 or more students into a first-year cohort, the direct enrollment model helps us match student interest with academic program capacity,” Borst said. “If we were admitted to the university regardless of major, our computer science program would be nearly four times (360 percent) over capacity, and some of our smaller colleges would enroll at only about 75-85 percent of their current enrollment rate.”
He also said the Illinois system enrolls far more minority students than it would otherwise.
“This [allows] UIUC will have 183 different admissions standards that can vary widely among the sometimes competing priorities among academic programs,” he said. “Our recent analysis found that if UIUC were to use a college admissions model like many other universities, rather than a direct entry model, Hispanic and African-American student enrollment would drop by nearly 30 percent. That’s about 450 different students in one first-year cohort and nearly 2,000 students over four years who wouldn’t be on our campus if we used one campus-wide admissions standard.”