Though USC has been inching toward it for nearly a decade, this is the first year that fewer than half of the applicants to the undergraduate freshman class are from California, according to the Office of Admissions.
“In this year’s freshman applicant pool [of prospective students], the students who will be enrolling at USC this coming fall, only 49.5 percent of our applications were from students in California,” wrote Dean of Admission Timothy Brunold in an email to the Daily Trojan. “This is the first time that our applicant pool has ever been less than 50 percent Californian.”
Though the university is still accepting and rejecting applicants, the steady shift in applicant demographics has been reflected in the matriculating classes of past years. The freshman class of Fall 2011 was the first class to hit the 50 percent benchmark for accepted students, as 49 percent of the now-sophomores stayed within the state.
“Even though these percentage shifts might seem small, remember that one percentage point represents 27 to 30 students, depending on the size of each year’s entering cohort,” Brunold said.
Brunold attributes these trends to USC’s “substantial and aggressive” recruiting. Last fall, representatives from USC admissions visited between 2,100 and 2,200 high schools within the 48 contiguous states and Washington D.C., as well as 12 countries outside the United States Today, USC has 20 admission recruiters assigned to the Midwest and the East Coast, up from six recruiters in the area 10 years ago.
“We are looking far and wide for the students who’ll fit best at USC,” Brunold said.
USC also started recruiting in Brazil this year, after adding India to its recruitment calendar last year. Though the effects of this addition won’t be apparent until fall of next year, the university’s international recruitment helped to ensure that 12 percent of the fall 2012 freshman class came from outside the country.
“USC has made major strides in national and international reputation over the last decade and has taken steps to capitalize on that recognition through things like the Common Application,” said Jerry Lucido, a research professor at the Rossier School of Education and an expert on college admissions. “USC has been aggressive in establishing offices in other countries.”
But other American universities are not seeing similar results. Despite higher numbers of students enrolling in college and more aggressive recruiting on the part of universities everywhere, 53 percent of students still choose to attend college within 100 miles of home — a figure that has stayed relatively constant over the past 40 years, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.
The steady figure of university students at home contradicts the trend at USC, with 64 percent of this year’s undergraduate freshmen coming from outside Southern California, compared to 60 percent a decade ago.
Lucido said the recent state of the economy kept some students closer to home.
“Most college students in the U.S., at least 80 percent, attend public colleges and universities, including community colleges and regional public universities,” Lucido wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan. “This is largely due to lower cost and convenience, and these are particularly important options for low and middle income students.”
Though students are coming from more parts of the country than before, Lucido believes that, despite these numbers, Californians will still look to attend USC.
“I think this suggests a widening applicant pool,” Lucido said. “Not a lessening of interest from within California.”
Students most frequently consider academic program, location, cost, institutional size and academic reputation when they pick a college. Lucido pointed to USC’s strong reputation, large financial aid budget, loyal alumni, residential nature and the draw of Los Angeles as primary factors in USC’s ability to attract students from far away.
Students said prestige and financial aid contribute largely to the growing number of out-of-state students. Rica Maestas, a freshman majoring in cognitive science from New Mexico, said USC represented the best value for her.
“USC was in my top considerations of schools, and out of those top considerations they gave me the most financial aid,” Maestas said.
Other students said USC offered what colleges closer to them could not.
“I was interested in film and I looked up the best film schools,” said Jorge Molina, a freshman majoring in writing for screen and television. “USC came up, so it was a no-brainer.”
Overall, many students view the increase of students from different geographic regions as an enhancement for the school.
“It just shows how diverse ’SC is and how they recruit students and how far-reaching, a degree from USC can be,” said Michael Whalen, a graduate student from California in the master’s health administration program. “It just shows that the alumni in other states and other countries are promoting USC and showing people that USC is a great school.”