Party school? Safety school? Not so much anymore.
UMass Amherst may not have entirely outlived those nicknames and reputations. But it’s become so surprisingly selective that the alumni magazine ran a story recently titled “Could You Still Get In?”
The answer may be no, says Kevin Kelly, the director of admissions.
Many people who once found it easy to get into UMass “would struggle to be admitted now, frankly,” Kelly says. “It’s not the UMass that it was 20 years ago. It’s not the UMass that it was even 10 years ago.”
The number of applicants for the roughly 4,600 freshman seats available each year has increased from about 20,000 to more than 34,000 since just 2005, while their average GPA is up from 3.38 to 3.66 and combined SAT scores from 1143 to 1197.
The reason, in a word: price. Tuition, fees, room, and board add up to $23,167, less than half the cost of many Massachusetts private universities.
“I wanted to reduce the amount of loans I’d need to pay back,” says Leo Sheehan, a junior from Raynham who plans to go to medical school and decided on UMass over Boston University.
“The main difference for me was that BU was $33,000 more,” he says. “And they offer the same thing.”
Students such as Sheehan have pushed the number of applicants accepted at UMass from 80 percent 10 years ago to 63 percent now. That makes it only slightly easier to get into than BU, though much easier than Northeastern and Boston College — partly because its freshman classes are so much bigger, Kelly says.
The number of applicants from out of state has also doubled since 2005, to more than 15,400.
Inside the commonwealth, “We still have that Zoo Mass moniker,” says Sheehan, who gives campus tours. “But outside of Massachusetts, UMass is looked upon pretty highly.”
Still, being admitted and enrolling remain two different things. Barely one out of five accepted students choose to come. In fact, the share of college-going 18-year-olds in Massachusetts who pick public universities or colleges instead of private ones is lower than in any state.
UMass is, in part, a victim of its own success. Now that it’s become so selective, it has to lure admitted applicants who are also considering BU and Northeastern, the two schools with which it most commonly overlaps.
“It’s this odd situation where there’s such a concentration here of private institutions,” Kelly says.
“We’re on the same street, literally, as Amherst College and Hampshire College. If you keep following that road, you get to Mount Holyoke, and so on throughout the state. When you’re a state system in a state like Massachusetts, you get overshadowed by the privates.”