Colleges say incoming freshmen better, brighter

August 23, 1998|By SHEILA HOTCHKIN

Admissions officers at four-year colleges throughout the Tri-State area say this year's freshmen have higher test scores and grade-point averages than those in previous years.

They attribute the gains to improved programs and facilities, heightened reputations and individual recruiting efforts.

"We're getting applicants from a market section we weren't getting before," said Joseph Cretella, dean of admissions at Shippensburg (Pa.) University.

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U.S. News & World Report magazine named the school a 1998 best value, which Cretella said attracts stronger students from across the country.

Some college officials also said the schools benefited from a larger applicant pool, fueled by greater interest in college degrees and children of baby boomers.


"There's some indicators going around us that are going to help influence (higher test scores and GPAs)," said Stephen Neitz, director of admissions at Mount Saint Mary's College. "And one is that there are just more 18-year-olds in the area than there used to be."

The Emmitsburg, Md., college received approximately 1,400 applications, the third-largest pool in its 190-year history.

The size of the incoming class, currently at 413, forced the college to close admissions to first-year resident students for the first time in 13 years. Commuter students are still being accepted.

Administrators originally had prepared for 338 students, and recruiters wanted as many as 375, Neitz said.

He said that while the college accepted many more freshmen this year, it maintained the quality of the much smaller classes from previous years.

According to early estimates, Mount Saint Mary's incoming freshmen posted an average high school GPA of 3.2, slightly exceeding last year's 3.14 average.

The college also saw increases in applicants' average SAT scores. The middle 50 percent of this fall's incoming freshmen earned scores between 1000 and 1200, up from 980 to 1160 last year.

"If you change even 10 points, that's a pretty significant jump as far as I'm concerned," Neitz said.

According to estimates, incoming freshmen at Pennsylvania State University's main campus at State College will post the highest grades and test scores of area colleges.

The school's average freshman comes in with an A-minus or B-plus average and SAT scores ranging from 1150 to 1340. A perfect SAT score is 1600.

"We believe that Penn State's nationally known quality attracts the best and the brightest," said Vicki Fong, a university spokeswoman.

At College Park

At the University of Maryland's flagship campus in College Park, Md., average SAT scores among the projected 3,850 freshmen have risen significantly over the past few years and high school GPAs have increased steadily as well.

And 1,105 members of the incoming class scored 1300 or higher on the SAT, compared to 1,046 last year and 868 in 1996.

Ronne Patrick, the campus' associate director of admissions, said that exceptional high school students "still have their pick of any institution, but they're considering us much more seriously than they have in the past."

New attractions at the College Park campus include a new recreation center and the Maryland Center for the Performing Arts, which is under construction.

The University Honors Program and the College Park Scholars have helped to attract highly qualified applicants to the campus, Patrick said. Both programs offer special classes and seminars to qualified students.

Incoming honors students typically carry a 4.0 GPA from high school, along with SAT scores averaging from 1360 to 1460.

Karen Jewell, the director of enrollment management at Wilson College, said her school is profiting from a nationwide trend of increased attention to women's colleges.

Applications at the Chambersburg, Pa., college were up this year, and Jewell said test scores and grades are up as well, although the school has not yet compiled exact figures.

Cretella said that Shippensburg University has admitted an exceptional class for this fall, perhaps the best in five years based on test scores and high school transcripts.

The school makes it a policy not to release averages.

"I don't want students to believe they have to achieve a certain GPA, class rank or SAT score to be admitted," Cretella said.

Not all colleges saw the number of incoming freshmen increase.

Hood College in Frederick, Md., saw slight decreases in freshman GPAs and test scores, but Director of Admissions Kerry L. Durgin said the numbers are essentially identical to last year's.

For a college with Hood's reputation for being highly selective, she said, maintaining the quality of the freshmen is the goal.

"We're definitely the type of college we were 15 years ago, where we take A and B students and that's it," Durgin said.

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