Freshman class ranks as Princeton's most diverse

Princeton has enrolled the most diverse freshman class in its history for the third consecutive year, selected from a record-high number of applicants following the University's transition to a single admission process.

The class of 2012 includes record representation of students from minority backgrounds and international students, Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel reported at the Sept. 15 faculty meeting. The class also has the highest percentage of incoming students to receive financial aid, reflecting Princeton's efforts to enhance the economic diversity of its student body. Also, for the first time in University history, the entering class is evenly balanced in terms of gender.

A total of 471 freshmen are from minority backgrounds, representing 37.9 percent of the 1,243-member class. This compares to 463 minority students, or 37.2 percent of the 1,246-member class of 2011. The class of 2012 also includes 141 international students, constituting 11.3 percent of the class, which is up from 139 students, or 11.2 percent of the class, a year earlier.

"Building a strong multicultural community is a high priority for the University, and we will continue to concentrate on the recruitment of minority students in the applicant pool for the class of 2013," Malkiel said.

Princeton received 21,370 applications for the class of 2012, up 13 percent from 18,942 applications a year earlier and up 56 percent compared to 13,695 applications received for the class of 2008. Seeking to attract a broader pool of applicants, the University last year ended its binding early decision admission process and admitted all undergraduates through a single process. This shift built upon efforts in recent years that have helped increase Princeton's applicant pool, including expanded recruitment initiatives and the institution of major improvements in its financial aid policies, most notably the groundbreaking "no loan" program.

"The transition to a single-deadline admission process enabled the Admission Office to recruit more aggressively in areas where we had not previously been able to focus attention and resources," Malkiel said. "It removed any perception of advantage and unfairness that might have been associated with early decision. It produced a larger, more diverse, academically stronger applicant pool."

Among new efforts last year, admission staff members from Princeton joined with counterparts from Harvard University and the University of Virginia -- both of which also ended their early decision programs -- on a recruiting tour focused on making their institutions more accessible for all families, especially those with modest incomes. This joint effort will continue this year.

Princeton's class of 2012 is the 11th to matriculate since the University began revamping its financial aid practices to make a Princeton education more affordable to a broader range of students. This year, 697 freshmen, or a record 56 percent of the class, are receiving financial aid, compared to 671 freshmen, or 54 percent of the class, last year. The class includes 204 students from low-income backgrounds, or 16.4 percent of freshmen, compared to 188 low-income students, or 15 percent of the class of 2011. The average grant of $33,671 for a member of the class of 2012 is up from $31,187 a year earlier.

In the class of 2001, the last class to enter before the aid improvements, 38 percent of the students were on financial aid with an average grant of $15,064, and students from low-income backgrounds made up 8 percent of the class.

"The cumulative effect of these changes was for many years to make Princeton's the leading financial aid program among all colleges and universities in the United States," Malkiel said. "In 2007-08, a number of our peer institutions finally adopted changes in their financial aid programs that make them competitive with Princeton. That said, our competitive position remains strong. As the data make plain, we continue to be tremendously successful in attaining our goal of making Princeton affordable for any students regardless of family financial circumstances."

The class of 2012 also reflects gains in gender diversity. The percentage of applicants, admitted students and enrolled students was evenly balanced between men and women. Moreover, women comprise a record-high 46.6 percent of engineering students in the freshmen class. In the past, Princeton has attracted more male students than female, bucking the national trend.

Overall, Princeton offered admission to 2,122 applicants, or 9.9 percent of those who applied to the class of 2012, its second-lowest admission rate. The University offered admission to 1,838 applicants, or 9.7 percent of those who applied to the class of 2011, which reflects the final year of Princeton's binding early admission process.

Princeton currently enrolls 4,916 undergraduates including the incoming class, according to the Office of the Registrar. (Official opening enrollment numbers will be available in early October.) For additional figures on the class of 2012, see "By the numbers" in the Sept. 7 issue of the Princeton Weekly Bulletin.