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Admissions launches pilot program to attract top students

STANFORD - Stanford's Office of Undergraduate Admissions has launched a three-year pilot program to identify and enroll the nation's “most intellectually curious and accomplished students.”

According to Dean of Admissions and Financial Aids James Montoya, the new Yield Enhancement Program will begin this spring with four major elements:

  • A strengthened President's Scholars program, allowing travel funds for up to 200 admitted students of extraordinary promise to visit the campus. If they do enroll, scholars will receive $1,500 research grants each, a fall welcoming dinner and expanded faculty contacts, and participate in quarterly symposia.
  • Letters and phone calls from professors to admitted students who have expressed extraordinary interest in the faculty member's area of expertise.
  • Increased staffing of the Financial Aids Office during the April-May “yield period,” to better answer student questions about financial aid packages.
  • An improved, more academically focused “Stanford Admit Weekend” for visiting prospective freshmen April 20-23. The four-day event will replace the Prospective Freshmen Week of years past.

Stanford's Office of Undergraduate Admissions also plans to expand the involvement of Stanford alumni - including recent graduates - in its nationwide recruitment and yield activities, beginning with a three-city effort next fall.

“Our research shows that a large number of the admitted applicants who enroll elsewhere have not spoken to a Stanford alumna or alumnus and that the yield rate for those who have had alumni contact is noticeably higher,” Montoya says. “For many competitive universities, well-trained alumni play a positive admissions role in their local areas.

“While we understand that this represents a major undertaking for the university,” he says, “we believe it will enhance recruitment and yield efforts and create stronger links between alumni and the university.”

Cream of the crop

The latest efforts to strengthen Stanford's recruiting strategies were recommended by Stanford's Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aids in response to “considerably more intense” competition among colleges in the 1980s and 1990s for the nation's most academically talented students.

While the number of Stanford applicants has jumped almost 18 percent since 1990, the university's freshman yield rate - the percentage of admitted students deciding to enroll - has been hovering around 54 percent in recent years, 10 points below what it was in the mid-1980s.

Stanford took a step toward meeting the challenge last fall, when it announced that it would offer an “early decision” option to all applicants, beginning in the 1995-96 school year. (Since then, Princeton and Yale have announced that they will offer the early decision option, too. Early decision colleges typically admit about 20 to 25 percent of their freshmen early.)

Under early decision, applicants who already know Stanford is their first choice - and commit in advance to attending Stanford if admitted - can have their decisions as early as mid- December. Admissions staffers then will be free to focus their spring “yield enhancement” efforts on admitted students still considering other institutions.

By strengthening the President's Scholar program - formerly known as the Jordan Scholars program - the university hopes to make an especially favorable impression on the top 5 percent of admitted students, those the admissions staff feels are the “most intellectually curious and accomplished.”

The goal is to raise Stanford's yield on such students to at least 40 percent this year - up from 29 percent in 1994, according to program coordinator John Bunnell, associate dean of admissions and director of freshman admissions.

“It's unthinkable that these [designated President's Scholars] would not be admitted wherever they applied,” Bunnell says. “If they do decide on Stanford, it won't be because of a special letter from the Admissions Office . . . but because they've visited the campus and seen firsthand the intellectual passion and vitality of the student body and faculty.”

To that end, Stanford will cover the travel and program costs for designated President's Scholars to visit the campus this April. The admitted students will have opportunities to meet with faculty, take tours of campus labs and libraries, and attend a reception hosted by Stanford President Gerhard Casper at his home.

Those who choose to enroll will be invited to a welcoming dinner in the fall, as well as quarterly symposia for all current President's Scholars. As a further incentive, each scholar will receive a $1,500 research grant from Undergraduate Research Opportunities, for eventual fieldwork and honors thesis development.

While the research grants won't approach the monetary value of athletic scholarships or merit-based scholarships offered by some other universities (Stanford's financial aid is almost entirely need-based), they will demonstrate the value Stanford places on its students' intellectual pursuits, Bunnell says.

“I like it [the grant component] because it ties in directly for one of the criteria for their being selected as President's Scholars in the first place,” he says. “Most of these students already have done some pretty heavy-duty research in high school, so I hope they will be pleased to hear about the research opportunities that await them at Stanford.”

Calls and visits

The increased efforts to involve Stanford faculty in the recruitment process this spring are being coordinated by Jon Reider, associate director of undergraduate admissions, and Prof. Doug Osheroff, chairman of Stanford's Department of Physics.

Together they've collected the names of about 30 faculty volunteers. Each professor will be asked to read the files of President's Scholars and other admittees who have demonstrated interest in the faculty member's field. After they've read through the files, the professors will either call or write the students to tell them of the Admissions Office's interest in them, remark on their essays and invite the applicants to come to the campus and visit them and their departments.

Many Eastern schools, such as Harvard and Cornell, have a long tradition of involving their faculty in the recruitment process, Reider says.

“The best way that Stanford can put its best intellectual foot forward is to bring out its faculty,” he says. “Not only is this a nice recruitment device, but in some cases it will establish a relationship that will lead to mentoring and research. This is part of getting our best students off and running at Stanford.”

The final major component of the Yield Enhancement Program this spring will be an improved “Stanford Admit Weekend,” offering special programs for an expected 1,000 to 1,200 prospective freshmen visiting in late April.

As in past years, “pro fros” will be invited to bring their sleeping bags and camp out in the dorm rooms of volunteer student hosts. This year, however, prospective students will not be charged $25 for attending, and the event will be more academically focused, with “Classes Without Quizzes” and alumni and student panel discussions.

“We'll be keeping the fun components, but we also will be introducing a lot more programs that highlight Stanford's academic resources,” says coordinator Elise Maar, assistant director of undergraduate admissions.

Programs aimed specifically at African American, Mexican American, Asian American and Native American prospective freshmen - programs that used to be held separately - will be included in this year's Admit Weekend, giving prospective freshmen of all backgrounds a fuller picture of the university and each other.

Parents also will be more a part of the picture this year, Maar says. “Parents will be allowed to attend all the classes and panels, and we're working with the Stanford Mothers Club to put together a lounge in Tresidder Union where parents can come relax and talk with other parents. We've also planned a program called “ 'Resident Fellows Tell All' to let parents know what to expect of the freshman year.”

By fitting the programs into a long weekend - rather than a full week as in the past - Maar says she hopes more prospective freshmen and their parents will be able to attend.

The shorter program also should make things easier for admissions staffers and host students facing midterms, she says.



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