4-year colleges sound off on the admissions process

As more students apply to college, admissions has become cutthroat


Staff writer

High school students spend a lot of time researching colleges — they send away for pamphlets, search the Internet, and go on campus visits. While colleges must do their best to sell themselves to students, students are also faced with presenting their résumé, so to speak, to a prospective school.

Nowadays, it seems as if everyone is going to college. And, as the number of applications a school receives increases, changes must be made as to how students are selected. Greater Media Newspapers spoke with representatives of four universities and colleges in New Jersey and one out-of-state school to find out if their admissions process has changed over the years.

Monmouth University, West Long Branch Monmouth University, West Long Branch

The College of New Jersey

Main campus — Ewing, N.J.

“Every year that I’ve been here it has become more competitive,” said Lisa Angeloni, dean of admissions.

Rutgers University,  New Brunswick Rutgers University, New Brunswick About 20 years ago, the school’s goal was to provide the best education in New Jersey. Now, Angeloni said, the school, which was formerly called Trenton State College, is aiming for national recognition.

“Because of that, it yields different types of students applying to your school,” she said.

The number of applicants has undoubtedly increased over time, leading the school to be more selective about whom it chooses. But it’s not TCNJ that expects more from the students, Angeloni said, “it’s the students that are raising the bar.”

“Students that apply here are already pretty strong,” she said. Therefore, the admissions office has taken a “holistic” approach to admissions, examining all factors in a student’s background.

“It’s finding unique things about these kids that will make them successful on this campus,” she said.

While the school does look at a prospective student’s SAT scores and grade-point average, class rank weighs more heavily, Angeloni said.

The school also looks at whether a student has the potential to be a leader, to change the world in some way. Angeloni said the admissions staff gets a hint of this through students’ essays, letters of recommendation and interviews.

The school typically accepts less than half of its applicants.

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Main Campus —

New Brunswick, N.J.

“We’re getting a better caliber of students who are applying and choosing to come here,” Sandra Lanman, a spokeswoman for the university, said. “It’s no longer a safety school.”

There are many more students applying to the school for about the same number of spaces, Lanman said. So the university recently changed its application to include a mandatory personal statement.

“It shows us more than facts and figures,” Lanman said about the personal statement. “It’s to get a more total picture of the applicant.”

While a student’s class rank, test scores and high school courses are all factors in the school’s admissions process, the university is paying close attention to other aspects of the application. There is now more room on the application to list activities and work experience.

Students used to apply to Rutgers University as a whole and check off the three colleges (Cook, Rutgers, Douglass, Livingston, etc.) they’d most like to attend. Now, Lanman said, a prospective student applies to certain colleges first. There is also a separate admissions process for the technical and professional schools. And, some programs, such as the business school and the school of communications, only offer acceptance to their programs based on performance during the first and second college years.

One of the university’s most vigorous programs is pharmacy — Lanman said it’s one of the best programs in the country.

“It’s a doctoral program from the start, so it is hard to get into,” she said. “The students who come into that program are very accomplished.”

The engineering program and the Mason Gross School of the Arts are also harder to get into. Students applying to the School of the Arts are brought in for auditions and portfolio reviews.

“Highly qualified art students who are applying to Mason Gross will be looked at for those talents but [we’re also looking at those] who can do well in liberal arts,” Lanman said.

Because Rutgers offers a good education at a lower cost, the university is dealing with capacity issues, like many other schools, Lanman said.

“It’s competitive out there,” she said.

Monmouth University

Main campus —

West Long Branch, N.J.

“In the last 11 years, we have not only increased the number of our applications, we’ve doubled them, and we’ve doubled enrollment,” Miriam King, vice president for enrollment management, said.

Last year the school offered admission to 65 percent of its applicants, out of approximately 5,500 prospective students. Because the number of applicants has increased, King said admission to the school is more competitive.

The university concentrates mostly on a student’s SAT score, grade-point average and coursework when deciding to offer admission. Last year’s freshman class had an SAT range of 990-1120, with 25 percent of the class falling below the lowest score and 25 percent falling above the highest score. King said the average SAT score has gone up by 100 points in the last 10 years or so.

“But we also evaluate the complete application,” she said.

Another factor they take into consideration is Advanced Placement or honors courses.

“AP classes will definitely impact an admissions decision,” King said.

King acknowledged that the school was once mostly populated with students from Central Jersey, but says that’s no longer the case.

“The geographic diversity has been enhanced,” she said. And since more students are coming from outside the Monmouth County area, the admissions process has become more competitive.

Whether or not a student needs housing on campus or lives in the area is not a factor that the admissions office considers when looking at a student’s application. King said it is not easier for a student to get into the school if they are commuting or living off campus.

“The location of their permanent home is not a variable in the application,” King said. “We just want the best students.”

So while students may have thought of Monmouth as a safety school or a sure-thing, especially if they lived in the area, that presumption has now gone out the window.

“Now there are more students who want to be at Monmouth,” King said. And this change can’t just be attributed to the school’s recently implemented and highly popular football program. King said they’ve worked on many things at the school to make it attractive to prospective students.

One attractive quality is that with the help of the university’s merit scholarship program, students find they can afford the private institution more easily. The scholarships that are given out help Monmouth compete with larger state schools such as Rutgers University, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Maryland, King said.

“We’re definitely competing with the publics because of the scholarships,” King said.

Montclair State University

Main campus — Montclair, N.J.

“We really start at the beginning with every applicant,” Dennis Craig, director of admissions, said.

One of the main indicators that the admissions office looks at is consistency in a student’s high school performance. With an applicant pool of 9,000 people competing for just 1,700 spaces, Craig said it’s not enough for prospective students to have made a small improvement from their freshman to their junior year.

The university looks closely at the student’s curriculum, especially at the core units that a student has completed, such as math, science and English. SAT scores do come into play, however, “because it’s the one standardized thing that all applicants have in common,” Craig said.

Ideally, the university would like its incoming students to be in the top quarter of their high school class, have an SAT score of at least 1100, and have a B+ average.

“If they’re weak in one area, then they should be over the top in other areas,” Craig said.

Several of the school’s programs are highly competitive, such as the school of arts; the pharmacy program, which is run in conjunction with Rutgers University; and the medical and dentistry program, which is run with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Other areas of study, especially business administration and elementary and early childhood education, are very popular, Craig said.

“More students are competing for the same number of seats at colleges and universities,” he said about the increasingly competitive nature of college admissions. “So that makes a more competitive back drop.”

While the university looks at many different factors to decide if an applicant will succeed academically and go on to graduate from Montclair, there is no specific formula that the admissions office can follow, Craig said.

“If admissions were a science, then we could plug this all into a computer,” he said. “But we don’t; there’s a human looking at all applications.”

Pennsylvania State University

Main campus — State College, Pa.

“Our applicant pool has been more talented than in the past … ever,” Kim Libby, the New Jersey recruiter for Penn State, said.

Although the number of applicants for the school has gone up, the way the university makes its admissions decisions has always been the same. Two-thirds of the decision is based on a student’s grade-point average. The rest of the decision is made from a combination of test scores, class rank, the personal statement and activities list, among other factors.

“For a big school like us, grades means a lot,” Libby said.

A student’s grade-point average in ninth, 10th and 11th grades is a huge factor. Even if a student starts off shaky but improves over time, that won’t necessarily fly with Penn State.

The reason is, there are 20 campuses in the Penn State system and a freshman class of 13,000 students. Most of the students want to go to University Park, the main campus, but only 6,000 freshmen are admitted there. While 6,000 students in the freshman class sounds like a lot, Libby said it’s really not when you look at the total student population of 42,000.

So while many prospective students can go to Penn State, they may not get accepted to the main campus. But, Libby said, the quality of education is just as good at the satellite campuses.

One up side is that, even if your SAT scores weren’t so great, being a good student during high school really will help if your dream is to be a Nittany Lion.

“A student who has that situation usually fares pretty well with Penn State,” Libby said.

Libby, who talks to many students looking to go to Penn State, says many of them have what she calls a “laundry list” of activities. While those do come into play in the admissions process, the decision mostly comes down to grades.

“The bottom line is the bottom line,” Libby said.

There are 29 Division IA sports at University Park, but Libby said it is just a rumor that only student athletes get accepted to the main campus. Student athletes have their own criteria to meet when it comes to SAT scores and grade-point average. That minimum is set by the NCAA — a standard that Penn State subscribes to, Libby said.

Many people also think it’s hard for out-of-state students to get accepted, but “that’s just a rumor,” Libby said.

“It doesn’t matter where you live, if you live in India, or Pennsylvania or New Jersey,” she said. “It is just as difficult for you to get in [as everyone else].”