Last November, more than 5,400 high school students and 460 guidance counselors turned out to hear top admissions officials from Harvard, Princeton and the University of Virginia deliver an important message: Regardless of your family income, you can afford to attend three of the best universities in America.
Next week, the schools will reprise and extend last year's successful tour, again spotlighting the measures that make their institutions accessible for all academically qualified students, especially those from families with modest incomes. The admissions teams will recruit at 27 sites, up from 19 last year, extending their efforts to areas of the southwestern United States in addition to the regions visited last year — the Southeast, Midwest, West Coast and Northeast.
"We saw huge turnouts in most cities, but the record-breaker came in Washington, D.C., where we met with 1,700 students and parents," said John A. Blackburn, the University of Virginia's dean of admission. "We're delighted to be doing it again this fall, and we hope that we will be able to meet even more students than last year."
All three schools announced the move to a single admission cycle in September 2006. Students entering in the fall of this year were the first to benefit from the decision to end early admission practices that tended to provide an edge to the most financially advantaged students.
This year, admissions officers will again focus on their institutions' financial aid efforts, in addition to sharing information about the quality of their academic programs.
"It was such a successful set of trips last year that we want to do it again," Janet Rapelye, Princeton's dean of admission, said. "The crowds were larger than any of us have seen in our individual recruiting events, which reinforces the fact that we have a message that these families want to hear -- that no matter a family's income, it's not a disadvantage to be in our admission process.
"We have financial aid for the full range of students," she said, "and we're looking for students who may not have considered our schools in the past."
William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admission and financial aid at Harvard, said, "We were gratified by the tremendous outpouring and interest in our message that the elimination of early admission helps level the playing field for students needing financial aid, and reduces the frenzy early admission programs create for all students."
One goal of the recruiting trips is to raise awareness about accessibility early in students' high school careers. So while it may be a couple of years before Harvard, Princeton and U.Va. realize the full impact of their decision to move to a single admission cycle, some results already have been felt: All three schools reported record applicant pools for the class that entered this fall.
Princeton fielded a record 21,370 applications. The class of 1,243 enrolled from that pool is Princeton's most ethnically and economically diverse in the University's history, has the most international students and is the most balanced by gender. Among the freshmen, 37.9 percent are from minority backgrounds, 56 percent are on financial aid and for the first time, the incoming class has an equal number of men and women.
"We're recruiting strong, accomplished and talented students," Rapelye said. "We want to be accessible in the application process, and one way to do that is to reach out and talk to students and families. These programs help us accomplish that goal."
U.Va. received applications from a record 18,598 students. Both the number of students demonstrating need for financial aid and the number of students designated as being from "low-income" backgrounds increased.
Harvard considered a record 27,462 applications. A record 60 percent of the class is receiving financial aid, compared to 53 percent last year, making the class of 2012 the most economically diverse in Harvard's history.
This fall's tour is beginning a few weeks earlier, coinciding with the time of year when prospective students who may have been uncertain about their ability to attend college are beginning their college searches in earnest.
Many of these students must balance financial options before deciding on a school, and a common criticism of early application programs has been that they increase the admission chances for those in the early pool -- many of whom are affluent -- but present an obstacle for families dealing with financial considerations.
"We found that few, if any, low-income students applied to U.Va. for early decision, and the results of that program were inconsistent with the goals the University has for enrolling students from low-income backgrounds," U.Va.'s Blackburn said. "These tours should send a clear signal to students and parents from low-income backgrounds that selective universities are serious about reaching out to them and that we have committed large sums of financial aid to them."
The time and staffing capacity previously dedicated to holding two admission processes now allow Harvard, Princeton and U.Va. to focus more aggressively on outreach and recruiting efforts, like the joint tour, the deans said.
The deans said the recruiting effort is important to address national disparities in access to quality college counseling. The recruiting teams on the tour will host an evening program targeting their message to parents and students at each site, and also a morning breakfast for invited guidance counselors from neighboring high schools.
The schools have built a joint website (www.harvardprincetonuva.com) to promote the tour, listing the dates of visits to 27 cities beginning Oct. 12 and ending Nov. 20.
The full 2008 tour schedule is as follows (all programs begin at 7:30 p.m. local time):
- Oct. 12 - Greensboro, N.C., Greensboro Marriott Downtown, 304 North Greene St.
- Oct. 13 - Abingdon, Va., Martha Washington Inn Ballroom, 150 W. Main St.
- Oct. 14 - Charleston, W.Va., Charleston House Holiday Inn, 600 Kanawha Blvd. E.
- Oct. 15 - Parkersburg, W.Va., Grand Pointe Conference Center, 1500 Grand Central Ave., Vienna, W.Va.
- Oct. 16 - Morgantown, W.Va., Ramada Conference Center, 20 Scott Ave.
- Oct. 26 - San Diego, The Westin San Diego, 400 W. Broadway.
- Oct. 27 - Riverside, Calif., Riverside Marriott, 3400 Market St.
- Oct. 28 - Anaheim, Calif., Doubletree Hotel Anaheim/Orange County, 100 The City Drive, Orange, Calif.
- Oct. 29 - Universal City, Calif., Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City, 555 Universal Hollywood Drive.
- Oct. 30 - Los Angeles, Renaissance Montura Hotel Los Angeles Airport, 9620 Airport Blvd.
- Nov. 9 - Austin, Texas, Courtland by Marriott/Austin Downtown, 300 E. Fourth St.
- Nov. 9 - Little Rock, Ark., Doubletree Little Rock, 424 W. Markham St.
- Nov. 10 - Memphis, Tenn., Doubletree Hotel/Memphis Downtown, 185 Union Ave.
- Nov. 10 - San Antonio, Texas, Marriott River Center, 101 Bowie St.
- Nov. 11 - Birmingham, Ala., Birmingham Marriott, 3590 Grandview Parkway.
- Nov. 11 - Laredo, Texas, Embassy Suites Laredo, 110 Calle Del Norte.
- Nov. 12 - Jackson, Miss., Hilton Jackson, 1001 E. County Line Road.
- Nov. 12 - McAllen, Texas, Embassy Suites McAllen, 1800 S. Second St.
- Nov. 12 - Washington, Renaissance Washington D.C., 999 Ninth St. N.W.
- Nov. 13 - Brownsville, Texas, Holiday Inn Brownsville, 3777 North Expressway.
- Nov. 13 - Mobile, Ala., Mobile Marriott, 3101 Airport Blvd.
- Nov. 13 - Prince Georges, Md., Eleanor Roosevelt High School, 7601 Hanover Parkway, Greenbelt, Md.
- Nov. 16 - Detroit, Doubletree Hotel Dearborn, 5801 Southfield Service Drive.
- Nov. 17 -- Indianapolis, Hilton Indianapolis North, 8181 N. Shadeland Ave.
- Nov. 18 - Chicago, Chicago Marriott Oak Brook, 1401 W. 22nd St. Oak Brook, Ill.
- Nov. 19 - Milwaukee, Wyndham Milwaukee Airport Hotel, 4747 S. Howell Ave.
- Nov. 20 - Madison, Wis., Monona Terrace Convention Center, One John Nolen Drive.