The push by USC Admissions to increase its number of visits to high schools around the world has led to a record number of freshman applications and a stronger applicant pool.
In the tough economy, many universities chose to cut their admissions travel budgets, decreasing visits to high schools. USC, meanwhile, set out to increase visits by 50 percent, aiming to attract more students from a wider variety of backgrounds. The return was about a 3 percent increase in freshman applications.
The Office of Admissions far exceeded its goal, visiting about 1,350 high schools, a 67 percent jump from last year. Though these 1,350 schools are only a few of the 30,000 high schools in the United States, Tim Brunold, associate dean and director of undergraduate admission, said the visits were integral in drawing a greater number of strong applicants to USC.
“We want to keep up the trend of delivering a freshman class that is more distinguished than the one before it,” Brunold said. “High school recruiting visits are one of the best ways to provide more high quality applicants.”
Brunold said the “volume and scope” of USC’s visits were “definitely beyond” those of other universities. USC spent $200,000 on travel for recruitment, which is less than they had originally budgeted.
Aside from campus tours, surveys show that high school outreach visits have the greatest impact on generating applications, Brunold said. Applications from a particular school can as much as double after USC visits for the first time.
Wayne Thompson, a junior majoring in business administration, said colleges visiting his high school gave him a good picture of the university.
“It’s a tangible effect to be able to shake someone’s hand,” he said. “To converse in face just generates excitement.”
While USC visited the same number of California high schools as 2008, it increased its presence in the Southeast and Northeast, especially in highly populated states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. USC drew 6.8 percent and 4.3 percent more applicants from the Southeast and Northeast, respectively.
When determining which schools to visit, USC seeks the most return on resources spent by finding schools with achievement scores that match its target and that also have a large number of students that would be interested in coming to USC.
That approach seemed to work this year, as preliminary figures show that the average SAT score of this year’s applicants was 20 points higher than last year.
Kate Durkee, an undeclared freshman, said USC mailings and a desire to move West were enough to persuade her to apply. But she said she would have liked to see USC make an effort to visit her Maryland high school. Nonetheless, she applauded this year’s increased visits.
“It makes the school more competitive,” she said. “Our reputation has already gone up, and this will create only more opportunities for all of us.”
Jordan Roberts, a freshman majoring in architecture, said about 50 students attended a USC information session at his school, six of whom went on to enroll.
“The visit did not make me want to apply anymore than I already did, but I was happy to have my financial aid questions answered directly,” he said.
A visit encouraged Stephanie Tong, a junior majoring in business administration, to apply not only because the recruiter sold the city and debunked the stigma associated with USC but also because of his attire.
“The USC officer wore a suit, and it showed that he really cared about his and the school’s persona,” she said. “It brought a level of professionalism when other schools had people come looking casual.”
Similar was the experience of Kevin Song, a junior majoring in business administration.
“It was good to hear all the benefits from one person traveling to us, instead of 50 of us going down to Los Angeles,” he said.
On the international level, USC reached 15 more schools this year. There was a 60 percent increase in applications from China and 10 percent increase from South Korea.
Although Brunold added two recruiters this year specifically for international visits, he said that number should increase as USC makes a push into India, Latin America and Canada, areas where the number of applicants did not change.
Despite the increase in applications, Brunold says the enrollment target remains 2,600 freshman, which will lower the admittance rate from 24 percent.
As for next year, Brunold said he expects to keep being aggressive with a goal of “meeting every student that is a match for USC.”