University expansion leads to changes in admissions

Emily Sybrant | Student Life
Dealing with university expansion, financial aid and program termination, the Washington University admissions office overcame many hurdles to create the talented and dedicated class of 2017.

The University’s newest class represents a worldly group, coming from 49 states and 19 different countries. Director of Admissions Julie Shimabukuro noted the absence of Wyoming but mentioned that more than 65 percent of incoming freshmen will be traveling from more than 500 miles away to attend the school. The class is comprised of about 1,600 students, just higher than the administration’s goal size for this year. The acceptance rate decreased to slightly less than 16 percent, but Shimabukuro said that the Office of Undergraduate Admissions admits as many students as it can.

The applicants continue to impress the admissions staff with not only their dedication in the classroom but also their outside interests. The director pointed out that it isn’t necessary for a high school student to be a “jack of all trades,” but commitment to specific interests and to community service truly stand out.

Many of these students applied to several top-tier schools, most of which required additional application essays. Some students wonder how a university of this caliber still lacks a supplemental essay section on the Common Application, but Shimabukuro had a simple response to put such questions to rest. She realizes that the basic application process can be extremely daunting, and there are several merit scholar applications that request essay components as well. With both applications due around the same time, she believes that it would be an unnecessary additional strain on applicants to write another essay for the main Washington University application.

“Overall, we want students who are academically talented, those students that really have that intellectual curiosity, that will come in ready to challenge each other, challenge the faculty at the University and make it a vibrant place for learning,” Shimabukuro said. “That is something that we’re always looking for when we’re shaping and reading applications: what stands out about each individual student, where their strengths lie, how they will fit into our community, how they will develop and grow.”

The University is making efforts to build more accommodations for larger classes with several construction projects, including the new housing on the Delmar Loop. The pace of the change will not affect the housing and faculty support for students. Shimabukuro believes that the increase in student population shouldn’t change the spirit of the University, citing that it hasn’t changed much since she attended the University despite the much larger numbers in the undergraduate population today.

While the University plans to increase the size of each freshman class incrementally, there are limits. Shimabukuro noted that the University is need-conscious.

“We want to do our best to admit the best and the brightest students to the University, and throughout the admissions process, we’re not looking at all of this financial information and basing our decisions upon that,” Shimabukuro said. “But in the end, when we’re really shaping the final class, you know the University is committed to making it possible for every admitted student to attend, and we don’t want money to stand in the way of a student making that decision.”

At some point during the admissions process, financial assistance budgets are considered in order to ensure the University’s ability to give enough aid to any admitted student. Because of financial constraints, the former tradition known as the January Program meets its end this year. In years past, additional students would join the freshman class in January when housing spaces opened up after students studying abroad left. These students, commonly referred to as J-Progs, often studied abroad or took on internships before starting their collegiate studies. Shimabukuro stated that the main cause of the program’s termination was not a logistical difficulty but a problem with the University’s expansion plan. The termination of the January Program should not have any effect on the admission rates for future freshman classes.

“We would love the students that would come in the spring, too, and for us it was a way that we could bring in more great students into our community, and it’s always hard when you have to limit,” Shimabukuro said. “But now we’re looking at, down the road, incrementally increasing the size of each freshman class; there isn’t as much space for them in the spring. So slowly with the January Program, we just decided that we would end it and continue to move forward, specifically focusing on the freshman class.”