Whether directly or indirectly, the tragedy of Sept. 11 and its aftermath have left few sectors of American society unaffected. On that list include college admissions offices. Nationwide, admissions officials are wondering what impact recent events will have on the application process, both in terms of who will apply and the paperwork getting through the postal system.
One of the prevailing suspicions is that more students than usual will opt to attend higher education institutions closer to home. These days, many people--prospective college students and their families included--feel a need to stay near loved ones and are also wary of air travel.
John F. Latting, the new director of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at the Homewood campus, says that this year, he and his counterparts at peer institutions are having to contend with a whole new set of variables.
At the Homewood campus, where the Nov. 15 deadline for early decision applications has just passed, it's a case of so far, so good, Latting says. The Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the Whiting School of Engineering have received more applications than they had at this time last year, and campus tours have been full. Yet, Latting says, the lingering effects of the terrorist attacks, the anthrax outbreaks and the ongoing war on terrorism could still very well influence this year's applicant pool.
While it's too early to tell where the class of 2006 will hail from, Latting's guess is that demographically speaking, it may not be as diverse as its recent predecessors. The current freshman class, for example, represents 44 states and 21 countries. For a school that attracts students from far and wide, potential applicants' reluctance to travel is a definite source of concern.
"I can't imagine it not being somewhat of a factor, that some of the students who we would like to see apply to Hopkins will, when it comes right down to it, decide they do not want to travel far from their homes," says Latting, who is responsible for recruiting and admitting the freshman classes and undergraduate transfer students for the schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering. "The level at which I'm concerned is, how diverse might our student body be? We may have a kind of homogenization of where they come from, or at least a shift in that direction."
However, even if there are fewer applicants from places such as California and Europe, Latting says that Hopkins is well-positioned, both geographically and in terms of reputation, to receive the same overall number of quality applicants.
"We have a very significant population to draw from that is within a seven-hour drive of the university. So, no, I'm not as concerned as I would be if I were at a school in Missouri or out west somewhere," Latting says. "Whatever we lose in terms of inflows into the region, I think we will be capturing in terms of people who are not leaving the region to go to college."
As for the university being located in a large city, Latting says he does not anticipate that will be a factor in the decision-making process of prospective students.
"I have heard people say that students will be more reluctant to attend an urban university given the current climate, but I wouldn't make that argument," Latting says. "It seems to me that distance from home would be much more of a deciding factor."
In addition to where the applications will come from, schools are wondering when exactly they will arrive. The mail delays that have resulted from the recent anthrax outbreaks present another potential area of concern for admissions offices. Latting says that although the number of online applications increases each year, most students still prefer to "send something that important by mail."
"And the fact that mail is taking longer to go from place to place is certainly a challenge for us," Latting says. "It's more than just a matter of how quickly what the student sends will get to us. Keep in mind that applications have a number of components. Some of the application comes from the student's school, and some comes from the College Board, SAT results, for example."
In order to "absorb" any mail delays, Undergraduate Admissions is taking strides to increase its efficiency in processing applications and, if need be, will defer some nonrelated activities until after the application period.
While not offering blanket deadline extensions, Latting says that in some cases his office will be more flexible with deadlines than it would have been in the past. In particular, Latting says he expects there will be extensions given to students who attend high schools in New York City and northern New Jersey and who were affected directly by the terrorist attacks or indirectly by post office closures and mail delays.
John Birney, senior assistant director of admissions and the regional representative for New York and Connecticut, says he has been in contact with several high school counselors and students with regard to deadline extensions and has visited a number of schools in Manhattan since Sept. 11 to address their unique situations.
"Stuyvesant comes to mind, which was the school most directly affected, since it is actually connected to the World Trade Center by a concourse. They were knocked out of their school for six weeks and have just gotten back in," Birney says. "I'm not sure what the effects are going to be yet, as to how much of a delay they are on. But my conversation with them was that we will certainly be flexible working on a one-on-one basis with you."
Decisions for those who apply early are mailed out by Dec. 15. Latting says he expects the university to meet that and all other subsequent deadlines.
"We will do whatever it takes to get that done," Latting says. "In general, we are trying to go about business as normal as best we can."