The University Record, January 10, 1994

Prospective students apply in record numbers

By Jane R. Elgass

Students who wanted to attend the University applied in record numbers for fall term 1993 entry, according to Director of Undergraduate Admissions Theodore L. Spencer.

In a presentation to the Regents at their December meeting, Spencer noted that 19,000 students applied for fall term admission, the most ever. The University admitted 12,000 of those students, and 4,893 enrolled. The University continues to be very popular with out-of-state students, Spencer noted, with 12,000 applicants, also the most ever.

The reasons for such success in what President James J. Duderstadt characterized an intense marketplace: A dedicated group of staff members and lots of personal attention.

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions has 20 recruiters, 21 individuals who process materials, four staff members who focus on systems and research issues, and 14 support staff.

Spencer noted that the office adopted a model for recruiting in which “we’re all pretty much generalists. We don’t specialize, for instance having several recruiters focus on Michigan students or minority students. This has made us more effective over the past two years.

“If a person is sincere and knowledgeable, students accept that,” Spencer stated. “It doesn’t matter what gender or color a person is.”

He did note, however, that recruitment of minority students is becoming more difficult for a variety of reasons, including a shrinking pool and more competition. Minority students’ lack of information about colleges in general, as well as lack of reinforcement from their families and little knowledge of “playing the college game” also make recruitment difficult.

“We try to be aggressive,” Spencer said. “We don’t wait for students to knock on our door.” Among the aggressive, personalized strategies:

  • Names of top scholars and minority students are purchased. They receive personalized letters, and are encouraged to visit campus and talk with a recruiter.

  • During this “prospective stage” the University makes itself “visible” in the students’ high schools in such activities as college days and fairs and receptions.

  • Alumni also serve as contact persons and recruiters, and staff from some of the small school and college units visit high schools.

  • On a rotating basis, admissions staff manage to visit every school in Michigan at least once every four years.

  • “On-the-spot admissions sites” have been set up statewide in top feeder schools, especially in Detroit.

    Spencer also referenced what he called “our best approach right now”: sending a video narrated by alumnus James Earl Jones to prospective students for personal viewing, and encouraging them to take it to their high school counselor.

    Spencer said that he is “amazed at the response we’ve gotten” from a new program directed at top scholars.

    It includes personal letters that invite students and their parents to visit campus, and “has enhanced our contact with top scholars and minority students. It’s a front-end program based on early identification.

    “Campus visits are important for students we want to admit and those who have been admitted.”

    Other components of the personalized approach include:

  • Alumni visits with the students.

  • Phone calls from U-M students, the Admissions Office and faculty.

  • Participation in a campus orientation day.

  • Workshops on financial aid for parents, teachers and students.

    Two of these strategies, Spencer noted, are key components—alumni contact and campus visits. More than 24,000 prospective students visited campus last year.

    The U-M pursues a “rolling admissions program,” letting students know their status within three-to-four weeks of receipt of their application. “We manage admissions on a daily basis,” Spencer said. “We put them on an admit list, a delay list or a reject list.”

    He also explained that a number of factors affect admission decisions. These include:

  • GPA and test scores, which are given the most weight, with GPA the more important factor of the two.

  • The student’s academic record, including types of courses taken and participation in extracurricular activities.

  • Geographic location (in state or out-of-state) and the quality of the high school’s curriculum.

  • Comments from high school counselors.

  • Essays by the students.

    Spencer noted that his office “pays particular attention to the essays, particularly those by students who are on the delay list,” adding that “the better the record, the better the chance of getting in on first review.”

    Among proposed changes in the program:

  • More marketing and personalization of the recruitment process.

  • Better identification of students taking honors and advanced courses.

  • Collection of more detailed information on extracurricular activities.

  • Asking counselors to rate students, i.e. identifying items rather than writing statements.

  • Using more specific essay questions.

    With respect to factors that affect enrollment decisions on the part of students, Spencer said the U-M ranks high in academic reputation, academic facilities, majors of interest to students, and value for price.

    “We rank low and are challenged to do better with respect to the cost of attendance, knowledge of the faculty’s commitment to teaching, and the presence or lack of personal attention.

    “We’re trying to address things the students have said they’re interested in,” Spencer said. “The faculty commitment to teaching and personal attention are being addressed by a number of undergraduate initiatives.

    “We’re providing more help with financial aid information and information on the social atmosphere. We work closely with the financial aid staff and often travel together on high school and college fair visits.”