The college dropped its acceptance rate to 36 percent from 46 percent last year after receiving a record-high number of applications for the 2018-2019 school year, President M. Lee Pelton said.
“Just the sheer number of applications we got automatically forces us to be more exclusive simply because we’re not in the position as an institution to grow the size of a first-year class,” Director of Undergraduate Admission Michael Lynch said in an interview.
The number of incoming freshman applicants increased 20 percent in the last year, and 30 percent the year before that. About 13,000 students applied compared to 10,350 a year prior, Vice President of Enrollment Ruthanne Madsen said in an interview.
The college’s acceptance rate is lower now than most schools similar in demographic and academics. According to rates listed on each college’s website, Rhode Island School of Design is 31 percent, but Pratt Institute is 49.9 percent, and Mount Holyoke College is 50.8 percent.
Madsen said she attributes part of the increase in applicants to the college going test-optional, or not requiring SAT or ACT scores, for fall 2018 admission.
According to numbers provided by Madsen:
- International applicants increased 31 percent.
- Black or African-American applicants increased 21 percent.
- Hispanic of any race applicants increased 20 percent.
- Asian applicants increased 14 percent.
- Applicants who identify as two or more races increased 13 percent.
Madsen said the college plans to admit 870 students this year, compared to 938 students last year. The cutback is partially due to space—with the closure of the Little Building for renovation and a new three-year housing requirement, beds are limited. Certain departments like visual and media arts placed a cap on the amount of students admitted due to limited resources and faculty, Madsen said.
“I think we’re at capacity right now with respect to our facilities and programs,” Pelton said in an interview. “I think having a low student-faculty ratio is healthy and contributes to the quality of education here that you might not otherwise get a very large institution.”
Pelton said even though applications increased, the college still needs to improve the percentage of students who accept and choose to enroll at Emerson—a figure called the “yield.” The college yielded about 19 to 21 percent of students for the last few years, according to Madsen. In a U.S. News & World Report annual survey, the national average yield rate for liberal arts colleges in 2016 was 26.6 percent.
Madsen said the college’s growing reputation and rank also contribute to the number of applications this year. The college rose from No.14 to No.7 on the United States News & World Report for best regional university in the north. Emerson is also the number one journalism school in the country on USA Today, and number four on the Princeton Review for its theater program. College Factual ranked the college’s visual and media arts program third in the country and Bloomberg News ranked Emerson College Polling Society as the most accurate collegiate pollster.
“What lies underneath that are the investments we have made in the core enterprise of the college,” Pelton said. “We’ve increased substantially the number of faculty. We’ve had an explosion of new programs and degrees. I think all of that is clearly, clearly paying off. And I think that this is a trend that will continue.”
Two years ago, the college rolled out three new majors: business of creative enterprises, comedic arts, and sports communication. Communication studies had the highest increase of applicants at 27 percent—39 percent in political communications, 31 percent in sports communication, and 18 percent in general communication studies—according to Madsen.
“Students from all over the country who want to go into communication, if they are motivated and creative and high-achieving, we definitely want them to come here, we want to be the school choice for them,” Dean of the School of Communication Raul Reis said in an interview. “It has the potential to make it more competitive because applications are up.”
Madsen said numbers for enrollment are not finalized until the $500 deposit deadline May 1, but the college accepted more domestic students of color and international students than in previous years.
“I think Emerson as an institution wants to diversify, we’ve always wanted to do that. Every institution I think in the United States wants to diversify. That’s the problem, there’s a lot of competition for those students and sometimes it comes down to what’s the right fit for the student,” she said.
Senior Jessica Shotorbani applied to Emerson as her safety school because of its less competitive average SAT and ACT scores, and GPA. She said she liked how the college valued students working on their career, rather than a strong focus on academics.
“If you lower it even more to just people who are the most academically qualified, I feel like that’s already gonna be a little bit bias towards people who may not have access to better education or financial stuff, so I feel like that’s really gonna limit a diverse student population,” Shotorbani said.
Junior Kimberly Wilborn said when she was applying, even with the successful alumni Emerson produces, few people saw it as competitive.
“Only people in the media industry truly know about Emerson,” Wilborn said. “So I guess overall it makes the school look more competitive and gives Emerson a competitive edge.”
Amanda Ryan, an accepted student for the class of 2022, said the lower acceptance rate attests to the school’s prestige. She said she applied to Emerson for its theater design and technology program.
“They definitely want the best experience for the students they want, they don’t just want to pick someone to fill a spot,” she said.