UConn Applications Surge to New Record Despite Pandemic’s Challenges

The University will today inform prospective members of the Class of 2025 of their acceptance.

A group of graduating students toss their caps into the air while standing in front of the UConn gateway sign on April 28, 2020. The students are wearing facemasks due to the COVID-19 corona virus.

Despite the pandemic having a negative effect on college admissions applications in many parts of the US, UConn has seen its highest-ever number of prospective students apply. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

More than 38,000 students have applied so far to join UConn’s Class of 2025, a record-high level of interest despite the unpredictability that the COVID-19 pandemic has created in higher education worldwide.

The University will start formally notifying applicants today by mail who have been offered acceptance as first-year students at UConn Storrs, for which the University received a record number of more than 36,000 applications. Many had already accessed their acceptance offers over the weekend on the UConn Admissions online portal, with one-quarter of the applicants checking their status within the first hour that the portal went live Saturday.

The other approximately 2,000 applications already received are from people seeking to enroll as first-year students at a UConn regional campus. Many more are expected in coming months, as application deadlines approach for regional campus and transfer admissions.

This year’s applicant pool is UConn’s largest yet, but that’s not the only way in which it stands out.

It’s also the most diverse in terms of students’ racial and ethnic backgrounds, with about 45 percent of UConn Storrs applicants identifying as members of minority populations. Interest from Connecticut students also was very strong, with applicants from all of Connecticut’s 169 towns and cities in addition to others from throughout the U.S. and other nations.

“That is a rush to quality,” President Thomas Katsouleas told the Board of Trustees last week, noting that while many institutions have seen a dip in applications during the pandemic, the numbers have increased at top public universities like UConn and others perceived as continuing to offer academic excellence.

Nathan Fuerst, UConn’s vice president for enrollment planning and management, says the University had never topped 36,000 applicants for UConn Storrs first-year spots before this application cycle. The prior record was 35,980 applicants for the class that entered in fall 2016.

Applications from Connecticut students, while always strong, were even higher this year than usual, and interest was also noticeably piqued in pursuing health-related majors such as nursing and allied health, likely spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is also the first year of a three-year pilot program in which undergraduate applicants can decide whether or not they wish to submit their SAT and/or ACT scores to be considered as part of the University’s holistic review.

The test-optional policy also is believed to have encouraged applications from potential students who might otherwise not have considered UConn to be within reach.

“The test-optional policy has opened more opportunities for the University to identify and admit students based on their unique talents and abilities,” Fuerst says. “I think a lot of students who might otherwise have counted themselves out of the process are this year taking a look at UConn and realizing they do have a lot to offer by way of their accomplishments and their potential for success here.”

UConn admissions officers use a wide variety of factors beyond SAT and ACT scores to assess applicants on a holistic basis, including the student’s academic performance, strength of coursework, involvement, and leadership qualities.

“Because UConn has utilized a holistic review of applications for several years, the transition to test-optional really did not have a significant impact on our overall evaluation process,” says Vern Granger, UConn’s director of undergraduate admissions. “Whether an applicant chose to submit a test score or not, each went through the same holistic review of their complete application record.”

UConn has studied the issue internally over the past several years, finding that while students who score very highly on the SAT and ACT tend to be successful at very high levels, the scores are not correlated to success at other ranges.

Simply put, many low-scoring applicants also had successful academic careers, though judging them only on their standardized test scores wouldn’t have predicted it.

UConn announced the test-optional pilot program last year with the current cycle being the first year in which students could decide whether or not to submit the test scores. The University will use this application cycle and the next two cycles to study whether the policies influence student success rates and increase access to talented students who otherwise face barriers associated with the tests.

UConn had already been considering the test-optional pilot program before COVID-19 hit, but the pandemic added impetus by exacerbating the underlying issues, since high school students currently have varying access to e-learning, preparation for the SAT and ACT, and conducive testing environments.

Students may submit SAT and/or ACT results if they choose, but no admissions decisions were impacted and no students were disadvantaged if a standardized test score was not provided. Applicants also continue to be automatically considered for merit scholarships and Honors Program eligibility regardless of whether test scores were submitted.

UConn expects to enroll a class of about 3,675 first-year students starting in the fall semester at the Storrs campus, plus about 1,625 at the regional campuses: Stamford (650), Hartford (550), Waterbury (225), and Avery Point (200).

About 950 slots will be available this fall for transfer students from other institutions, of which 750 will be based at Storrs; and another approximately 175 students are expected to be admitted in the spring 2022 semester.

UConn saw a decrease in applications from international students in the current cycle. That is not surprising, given that UConn draws its largest number of international students from China, and that applications from Chinese students to U.S. institutions dropped 18 percent nationwide.

That decrease in international applications was counterbalanced by an increase in applications from out-of-state students, including the typically strong response that UConn gets from New Jersey, New York, and other nearby states.

UConn’s undergraduate student body has historically been about 77 percent from Connecticut and about 23 percent from elsewhere, a balance that will continue in the coming academic year and into the foreseeable future.