Nina Berler is a college counselor at The Hudson School in Hoboken, NJ, and the founder of college and career readiness service UnCommon Apps. In this article, originally published on Forbes.com, Nina shares her knowledge on the topic of geographic diversity for college-bound students from the New York metropolitan area.
It’s been an exhausting admissions season so far, especially for my ambitious students. In the early rounds, some students were quite successful, while others were surprised to be denied or deferred — raising familiar questions about what happens to New York area applicants. Could it be that our students are shut out of admissions just because of where they come from? Is it helpful to their candidacy when students from our area apply to colleges away from the East Coast?
While our association with diversity is often racial or ethnic, geographic diversity is a reality of the college process. After all, colleges want a balanced class that is representative of the world. According to Scott Wilson, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admission at UCLA, “A part of what makes UCLA so diverse is the number of students we bring from across the United States and the country. If you choose to attend college outside of the New York City area, you will absolutely be adding to your campus’ diversity and providing unique perspective to the classroom and among your classmates.”
This article seeks to uncover some of the realities of the admissions process as related to students’ geographies. In the sections that follow, I’ll examine the New York area presence at popular, elite, public research universities as well as West Coast universities, and share insight from admissions officers in different geographies. Finally, I’ll suggest some things our students can do to help their chances when spaces are tight.
Top Picks for NY Area Students
Make no mistake about it: thousands of our students attend out-of-state colleges. According to Higher Ed Data Stories: Freshman Migration, compiled by Jon Boeckenstedt, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management and Marketing at DePaul University, New Jersey and New York rank third and fourth, respectively, among states that exported the most students in 2016. (The top is California, followed by Illinois. Connecticut, by the way, is ninth.)
Higher Ed Data Stories allows us to readily view the most popular out-of-state destinations among our local students. Here are each state’s top five.
- New Jersey: Penn State; Delaware; NYU; Temple; Drexel
- New York: Penn State; Delaware; Quinnipiac; Michigan; Boston University
- Connecticut: URI; Roger Williams; UNH; Keene State; Johnson & Wales
Notably, many of these popular colleges are public research universities, which restrict enrollment from non-residents while still welcoming the higher tuition those non-resident students pay.
For California students, the colleges of choice were in the western part of the country — with the exception of NYU. For New Jersey and New York, no western colleges ranked high on the list.
Elite Private Universities
I am among many Brown alumni who used to comment (seriously) about moving to Iowa or Nebraska to enhance the likelihood of our child’s acceptances. Of freshmen matriculating at Brown, close to 17% came from New York and New Jersey alone. Those percentages are higher for Penn, where over 23% are from the New York area. At Duke, New York and New Jersey students make up 13.4% of the student body.
Interestingly, that presence goes way down when looking at sought-after private colleges in California. At Stanford, only 5.9% of the freshman class hailed from New York and New Jersey, exactly 100 students. Meanwhile, 43.7% of USC’s freshman class came from California, and only 6.5% from New York and New Jersey.
Public Research Universities
Are New York area students at a disadvantage applying to out-of-state public research universities? Here is a look at the numbers from some very popular colleges.
- Wisconsin: 57.3% from WI; 4.1% from NJ-NY
- Michigan: 50.7% from MI; 11.4% from NJ-NY
- UCLA: 75.6% from CA; 1.9% from NJ-NY
Northeast and New England
There’s a population decline in the Northeast, encouraging New England public universities to open their doors to out-of-staters. According to Fumio Sugihara, Director of Admissions at Bennington College (VT), “Vermont doesn’t have a lot of population, so even though we have a fairly high post-secondary graduation rate, our colleges are more dependent on out-of-state students than [those of] other states. This might skew the the aggregate tuition assessments, because out-of-state students pay more to attend our in-state institutions. Thus, unlike other state systems that are disproportionately in-state, students at some of our state schools are the opposite, UVM being significantly out-of-state.”
Two college jewels in the South are the University of Virginia and UNC Chapel Hill. At UVA, last year’s admit rate for Virginians was 39.1% compared with 21.0% for out-of-state students. Unofficial Early Action stats for the Class of 2022 show a 21.5% offer rate for out-of-state students versus 44% for Virginia residents. At UNC, the class entering in fall 2017 displayed quite the gap: an admit rate of 45.9% for residents but only 13.5% for students outside North Carolina. (If schools in the North Carolina system exceed an 18% cap on entering freshmen, the Board of Governors penalizes them by reducing the next year’s operating budget). New York area applicants interested in these two flagships are duly warned.
The University of Wisconsin Madison is hugely popular with my Northern New Jersey students, causing considerable angst during the admissions process. In 2016, according to the Cap Times, Wisconsin “lifted a 27.5% cap on out-of-staters, provided 3,600 in each entering class of freshmen are from Wisconsin.” That makes economic sense; students from outside of Wisconsin pay three times as much and bring a high level of academics to the beautiful campus. These days, out-of-state students make up 37% of entering freshmen. While that’s some cause for optimism, it’s still tough for an out-of-stater, particularly those that may compete for spaces with others from within their high school — a huge phenomenon in the New York tri-state area. Wisconsin, which is actively recruiting top residents through a program called Wisconsin Prime, saw an increase of 8% in Early Action candidates this year.
To that point, a student of mine was declined at Wisconsin yet deferred by rival Michigan.
According to an article in the Record, 42.4% of applicants were accepted for fall 2016 overall, versus a 24.5% acceptance rate for students from outside Michigan. Notably, Michigan received close to 9,000 applicants from outside the United States.
A 2016 article in the New York Times examined admissions in the populous state of California, noting, “On a constant hunt for more revenue, the prestigious University of California system gave favorable admissions treatment to thousands of higher-paying out-of-state and foreign students, to the detriment of Californians.”
Subsequently, reported the LA Times, “lawmakers threatened to hold back $18.5 million if the public university system did not put a cap on students from outside California . . . UC finally acted, proposing a 20% systemwide limit on nonresident undergraduate enrollment and vowing to continue to give Californians top priority. . . . the system’s three most popular campuses would be allowed to keep but not increase their proportions of nonresident undergraduates — 24.4% at UC Berkeley, 22.9% at UC San Diego and 22.8% at UCLA.”
According to UCLA’s Wilson, New York and New Jersey represent some of the university’s largest feeder states, accounting for 11% and 9%, respectively, of incoming out-of-state students. While the admit rate was roughly 23% for each state, the yield—how many accepted students actually attend—was about 22%. Wilson explains:
“The reason yield tends to be low for our out-of-state students is usually because of cost. Our out-of-state applicants do pay a non-resident tuition, which puts cost of attendance for out of state students at a little over $60,000 and we unfortunately offer little, if any, institutional aid to these students. Therefore, unless they are full-paying students or have received a scholarship from private organizations, UCLA does not make much sense to attend in comparison to our competitor institutions that may offer generous financial aid packages. Additionally, for some students, the distance may be something that they realize is not something they feel comfortable with and therefore may pick an institution that is closer to their family, further driving down our yield rates.”
Discussion and Analysis
Should New York area students add more western schools to their lists? To find out more, I reached out to Casey Decker, Assistant Director of Admission at Chapman University in Southern California. She told me, “We are always seeking geographic diversity, not only from the East Coast, but all over. We wouldn’t always tell a student to look outside their geographic area to improve their chances of admission; if they feel the institution is a strong fit for them, they should seriously inquire about the school to ensure the fit is there.”
Contrast that with the sentiments of UCLA’s Wilson, who explains, “The great thing about UCLA’s review process is that we review all applicants the same. Geographic location is not something that we are taking into consideration in our review process. What we are looking for is students who are challenging themselves in the classroom. We want to see students going above and beyond the normal coursework available at your high school, whether that be Advanced Placement courses, and International Baccalaureate program, dual enrollment opportunities, or even taking courses at a local college or university.” (That’s very familiar advice!)
According to Bennington’s Sugihara, “I agree that students are having to compete more and more with students from remote places, especially students from overseas (who tend to bring more revenue), but New York students are doing the same to students in other states (especially the West Coast). I suspect it’s more balanced, but the hype around selective admission gives the impression of students being edged out.”
“The real culprit is probably that northeast students are submitting more and more applications, which increases competition within the pool. This is verifiable. Related is that as colleges have ballooned, so have their application pools, which resulted in devastating yield predictability. They have become more and more dependent on developing ways to better identity students who have a greater statistical probability of yielding. This can be achieved by revising and fine-tuning the applicant review process and depending more and more on displayed interest, as well as using data analytics to fine tune the review process.”
Advice for Students
Here’s what I tell applicants:
- If you are targeting large, public research universities, get your apps in early. The UC App goes live on August 1st and closes on November 30. That comes around very fast. Wisconsin and Michigan have a November 1 Early Action deadline. For other state university systems’ priority dates (e.g., Penn State), November 30 is a priority date.
- Shoot high, but try to keep realistic choices on your short list. When my students are interested in UC, for example, I recommend that they look past the top few colleges in the system and find niche players in their areas of interest (e.g., UC-Irvine).
- Market yourself! That includes following the college on Twitter (e.g., @UWAdmissions) and even engaging with faculty and administration when applicable.