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Colleges see record applicants

Private and public schools have influx

Dozens of local colleges and universities are seeing record numbers of freshman applicants this year, including Northeastern University, Boston University, Boston College, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and three campuses of the University of Massachusetts.

“The reasons for it are probably as different as the institutions are,’’ said Mark Campbell, vice president for enrollment at Berklee College of Music, which had a 14 percent jump in applicants during last year’s record numbers. But they probably include increasing interest from foreign students and a possible jump in the number of schools to which individual American students apply.

Northeastern, which said it believed it drew more applicants last year than any other private university in the country, is expected to announce today that it broke its own record this year: 44,174 students applied for 2,800 spots in its incoming freshman class.


Jane Brown, Northeastern’s vice president for enrollment management, attributed the surge partly to the school’s co-op model, which alternates semesters of study with relevant employment.

“I think it goes back to what the students and families - in particular, families - see as a clear return on investment,’’ she said.

The University of Massachusetts Lowell had a 20 percent jump this year. UMass Boston is up 13.1 percent. At UMass Dartmouth, freshman applications are stable, but transfers are up 20 percent.

And at UMass Amherst, applications have been increasing steadily since 2004, breaking the record this year at 34,200 so far, said Kevin Kelly, director of admissions.

“It’s good news for us; it gives us a rich and deep pool of students to select from,’’ Kelly said. On the other hand, he added with a laugh, “it’s a lot of reading to do.’’

BU received 43,979 applications, a 5.3 percent increase over last year. That included a 20 percent increase in early decision applicants and a 19 percent increase in international students, trends that appeared at other schools as well.


At BC, the numbers looked similar, with a 3.3 percent increase to 34,050 applicants, the most in the school’s history.

Even though MIT saw only a 1 percent increase, its smallest in seven years, it, too, broke its own record. Stuart Schmill, dean of admissions, said the leveling off was welcome and possibly due to efforts to confine recruiting to the extremely qualified.

Amherst College also saw a 1 percent, albeit record-breaking, jump. Tom Parker, who oversees admissions there, said his staff was feeling overwhelmed.

“You hire somebody new to read all these applications in the spring, and then in the fall they can’t sit there and twiddle their thumbs, so they go out and recruit like the rest of us,’’ Parker said. “Naturally that generates even more applications. It’s a crazy irony.’’

Three local women’s colleges - Smith, Wellesley, and Mount Holyoke - reported record numbers this year. Smith was so pleased with its turnout that its admissions office invited the entire campus in for cake.

At least 14 other schools - five public, nine private - reported record-breaking jumps.

Among them were Emmanuel College, where applications have increased by a factor of 10 over the last decade, and Merrimack College, which had a 53 percent jump in the last year alone. “New president, new strategy,’’ said Christopher Hopey, who joined the school 18 months ago and geographically expanded its recruiting. Also, he added, “We have a pretty good hockey team.’’


Two local universities that did not break their own records were some of the area’s most elite: Harvard and Tufts.

After five consecutive rounds of record numbers, Harvard drew 34,285 hopefuls this year. Its dean of admissions, William Fitzsimmons, said that demographic trends, combined with the return of early action at some top schools, including his own, might have depressed regular-season admissions.

The situation was much the same at Tufts, which broke its record last year with 17,130 applicants but had 16,364 this year. Spokeswoman Kimberly Thurler said some of Tufts’ peer schools, including Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, had also seen slight decreases.

Tufts admissions officials were not available to provide more details, she said, because, dip or no dip, they were too swamped with applications.

Mary Carmichael can be reached at mary.carmichael@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @mary_carmichael.