Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 01:01
In 2012, Boston College received 34,051 applications for admission. In 2013, the University received about 25,000 applications. At first, these numbers are frightening. Why did 10,000 fewer people want to attend BC in 2013 than in 2012? The answer is simple—starting in 2013, aspiring high school seniors were required to write one 400-word supplemental essay to the Common Application.
The Heights fully supports the addition of a supplemental essay to BC’s application. First, most prestigious universities and almost all of the universities to which BC is often compared already require a supplemental essay. Simply adding an essay to the application visibly implies a more selective school.
Yes, the addition of a supplemental essay was probably the significant factor behind the decrease of the University’s applicant pool by 10,000 applicants. If a single 400-word essay is all that it took to dissuade a potential student from applying to BC, however, they probably were not very interested in our school in the first place. In a way, adding the essay trims the fat—by asking students to put a little more effort into their application, the admissions department is ensuring that those who do apply are truly interested in coming here. As a result, while the admissions rate may increase slightly from the current 28 percent—though it also may not—the University’s yield will probably increase similarly. While admissions rates are often compared between schools, yields are, in many ways, a more accurate measure of a school’s prestige and attractiveness to applicants. Lastly, by ensuring that those who apply are truly interested in BC, the University’s freshman-to-sophomore year retention rate, a measurement of how many students return to the University for their second year, will also likely increase.
Preliminary data from this year’s applicant pool has indicated that the quality of students applying, as indicated by average GPA and standardized test scores, has stayed the same. While 10,000 fewer students are applying, those students were, in general, not significantly above or below BC’s average applicants. As a result, the University is ensuring that high quality students are still being admitted, and that the essay will not discourage high-scoring high school students from applying.
That is not to say that there are not potential downsides to adding the supplemental essay. It is possible that the admissions rate could increase significantly this year, which could indicate to less informed observers that the University’s quality of applicants went down, and thus that its prestige is also falling. In addition, just because a student does not want to write a 400-word supplemental essay does not mean that the same student would not thrive at BC. A decrease of 10,000 applications is significant, and it is certainly possible that some of those missing applicants could have found a home at BC.
At its root, though, the supplemental essay gives students a final chance to express who they are and why they belong at BC. Prospective students are given several choices from which to select, allowing them to pick a question that they feel will most accurately reflect their interests and personality. As a school that does not currently interview applicants, the addition of a supplementary essay can only help admissions counselors gain a more accurate and complete picture of each applicant. As an institution, BC often seems more concerned with who a person is, rather than what a person is. Adding a supplemental essay aligns with this goal—by shifting the focus away from numbers like GPA and standardized test scores, this third and final essay may assist admissions counselors in selecting prospective students who will thrive during their time at BC.