Tufts Undergraduate Applications Rise 35 Percent

Applicant pool is most diverse on record, with interest in all programs rising across the board
Student wearing masks on the campus quad in fall. Tufts undergraduate applications rise 35 percent, and the applicant pool is most diverse on record, with across-the-board interest in all programs
“A Tufts education has never been more in demand than it is now,” said JT Duck, dean of admissions and enrollment management. Photo: Alonso Nichols
January 19, 2021

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A Tufts undergraduate education is appealing to a larger and more diverse pool of students than ever before, according to figures released by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions this week.

Vying for a place in the Class of 2025 were more than 31,190 first-year applicants, a 35 percent increase over last year. This year’s applicant pool is also the most diverse on record; for the first time, students of color comprise a majority of U.S. applicants: 51 percent, said JT Duck, dean of admissions and enrollment management.

The School of Arts and Sciences accounted for 24,378 of total applications, a 37 percent jump, and the School of Engineering for 5,874, an increase of 28 percent. The School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts (SMFA) saw growth in both the Bachelor of Fine Arts program and the five-year combined degree (Arts and Sciences/SMFA) program, up 31 and 33 percent, respectively.

“A Tufts education has never been more in demand than it is now,” says Duck, citing how Tufts, characterized as collaborative and interdisciplinary, brings together the strengths of a research university with the liberal arts, engineering, and an established studio arts program—plus the ethos and engagement opportunities that come with the Tisch College of Civic Life.

“It’s exciting to see students respond first with curiosity, and then with enthusiasm, when we talk about Tufts and all it can offer,” says Duck.

Duck also attributes the surge of applications in part to a thoroughly reimagined admissions process, including an SAT/ACT test-optional policy (for the first time, standardized test scores were not required), the university’s commitment to meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need, and an intense focus on deploying digital tools.

With social distancing safety protocols to curb the spread of COVID-19, “virtually every aspect of how prospective students engage with the college search process changed, as did virtually every aspect of how Admission Offices connect with students,” he said.

Among those changes was replacing on-campus visits with a robust virtual tour and information session program. Tufts, like most universities, also canceled all off-campus travel recruitment, and on-campus open houses evolved into thematic virtual programming, such as student panels, virtual classes, building tours, and application/essay workshops.

The Voices program for high school seniors interested in learning more about diversity and community at Tufts was also transformed into a virtual weekend event, and all high school visits and college fairs were also remotely hosted.

Even with social distancing, though, Admissions staff resolved to keep the admissions process moving briskly forward, said Duck.

“We took the opportunity to craft playful and engaging email and social media communications, and spent more time communicating directly with high school guidance counselors via email and webinars,” he said. “This allowed us to reach more students than we would have through our traditional recruitment efforts, nearly doubling the number of prospective students with whom we communicated this fall.”

While the test-optional policy and extensive virtual programming contributed to the increase in applications, the fact that undergraduates were on-campus this fall semester also made a positive impression on prospective students, said Duck.

“With rigorous health and safety measures in place, most of our students were able to come to campus for virtual, hybrid, and in-person classes,” he said. “That the semester went so well is a testament to the strength, resilience, and flexibility of our community, the hard work of our faculty and staff, and the commitment of our students to one another’s well-being.”

With the pandemic also came a decision to implement a three-year SAT/ACT test-optional policy in late March. Half of all applicants chose not to submit scores, said Duck.

“Our three-year policy gives us time to study the value of the exams to our decision-making process and their impact on our ability to build a diverse applicant pool,” he said. “We will not require SAT or ACT exams for at least two more years, and we will continue to examine the use of standardized testing in our process.”

The result is that the Admissions Office now relies more on curricular rigor, class performance and grades, insights gleaned from letters of recommendation, “and what we can discern of each applicant’s overall academic engagement with even more intention than before, for all applicants, whether or not scores are submitted,” Duck said. “We do this with appropriate context relative to the school communities in which students are learning, and their unique circumstances and opportunities.”

Highlights of applications to the Class of 2025 include:

  • Applications from Black, Indigenous, and Latinx students kept pace with or exceeded the growth of the overall pool, said Duck, who noted that applications from Black students have grown by 89 percent over the past three years.
  • Black applicants increased by 39 percent this year; Latinx by 42 percent; American Indian / Alaska Native by 35 percent; and Native Hawaiian / Pacific Islander by 35 percent.
  • Tufts saw significant growth in applications from all regions of the nation, with the largest increase from the Midwest (up 46 percent from last year) and the Southwest (up by 43 percent).
  • International students, defined as foreign nationals without U.S. citizenship, account for more than 6,000 applications, and comprise more than 19 percent of the applicant pool, a 36 percent increase over last year. South America, Africa, and Europe saw significant growth, while Asia remained the most represented region.
  • Applications from first-generation students grew in tandem with the applicant pool, and represent 17 percent of first-year applicants.
  • Tufts partners with QuestBridge, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting high-achieving low-income students with highly selective colleges and universities. QuestBridge applications to Tufts grew by more than 35 percent, and Tufts was matched with 20 outstanding QuestBridge scholars through its Early Decision 1 program. More QuestBridge scholars are expected to enroll through Early Decision 2 and regular decision programs.
  • All 50 states are represented, plus D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and U.S. Virgin Islands. The most represented states in order are Massachusetts, New York, California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.
  • The most represented countries by citizenship, each of which sent more than 100 applicants, are China, India, Brazil, South Korea, Turkey, Canada, Pakistan, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, Ghana, Mexico, Kenya, and Nigeria.
  • Tufts offers two rounds of Early Decision. Early Decision applications are up 19 percent.

Looking ahead, Duck said Early Decision 2 applicants will receive their decisions in early February.  Regular decision notifications will be released in late March. In lieu of the annual on-campus Jumbo Days in April, Tufts will host a virtual Jumbo Month for admitted students.

Laura Ferguson can be reached at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu.