College applications spike thanks to aid and foreign students

Top U.S. universities are seeing a spike in applications, making this a potentially competitive year for college admissions.

Undergraduate freshman applications to Harvard hit an all-time record for the 2013-2014 academic year, Harvard University announced Friday — a 2.1 percent increase to 35,022 driven by historic levels of financial assistance.

Other universities like Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, University of California, Berkeley and Tufts have also seen a jump in freshman applications. Some are attributing the spike to more generous financial aid, while others are pointing to the influx in international applicants as the source of the boost.

When asked whether an increase in applications meant more rejections (Harvard admitted only 5.9 percent of applicants last year), Harvard spokesman Jeff A. Neil told MSN News that it's still too early to speculate on what the admission rate will look like this year. Admission numbers won't be announced until March 28.

This is the third consecutive year Harvard has seen application numbers near 35,000. Last year, the university saw 34,303 applications, and two years ago 34,950.

"Financial aid continues to be a major factor in students' decisions to apply to Harvard," Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons said in a statement.

Alumni donations helped the college provide $172 million this year to meet the financial need of undergraduates, Fitzsimmons said.

Harvard's endowment is $30 billion as of June 2012.

The college saw a 37 percent increase in the number of students requesting a fee waiver, which was an indication of more applicants from low- and modest-income backgrounds, Harvard's director of financial aid, Sarah C. Donahue, said in a statement.

More than 60 percent of Harvard students receive financial aid, and on an average their families pay $11,500 annually.

Applications to Yale University were also at an all-time high, up 3 percent to 29,790. However the school doesn't plan to admit any more than the 2,000 students it did last year.

Jeffrey Brenzel, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale, said in a statement that the university targets students from "every family background and region, especially those who might be otherwise underrepresented in our admissions pool but are highly qualified."

Over 9,000 U.S. citizens and international applicants who applied to Yale this year requested that their applications be shared with Yale-NUS College, the new liberal arts college in Singapore that Yale is jointly founding with the National University of Singapore.

Applications at Columbia's undergraduate schools increased 5 percent for the class of 2017.

Meanwhile, undergraduate applications at Dartmouth declined 3 percent to 22,400 applications this year.

Stanford University, which became the first university to raise more than a billion dollars in endowment money in a single year, has not released specific application numbers yet, said university spokeswoman Lisa Lapin.

However, early estimates show that the number of applications increased 5 percent over last year's 36,632, Lapin said. Stanford's generous aid is one of the reasons for its high application rate. The university offers full tuition for families with incomes of $100,000 or less, and full tuition and room and board for families under $60,000.

"We are a need-blind admission university for U.S. students," Lapin said, which means that an applicant's ability to pay for their education will not be a factor in the admission decision. Lapin said that the school gets high international applications, but does not offer the same aid program for international students.

UC Berkeley attributed its record-breaking number of freshman applications to out-of-state and international students, according to the student newspaper The Daily Californian. The university saw 67,658 applications, a 10 percent increase from last year. More than 24,000 applications came from nonresidents.

Amy Jarich, the campus's assistant vice chancellor and director of undergraduate admissions, said recruitment efforts by campus admissions staff to reach more communities were driving the increasing application numbers.

While interest from international and out-of-state students remains high, campus officials also note an increase in applications from California students, including some from lower-performing schools.

"We anticipate having the same number of seats available" as previous years, said UC Berkeley spokeswoman Janet Gilmore, which is about 4,200 for fall and about 900 for spring.

Campuses across the University of California system saw similar jumps in applications, with UC Los Angeles receiving the maximum number of applications (80,000), The Daily Californian reported.

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