The District Weekly last week incorrectly reported that tui tion at Georgetown University is $7,100 a year. The cost of tuition at Georgetown is $4,100 a year; room and board costs average between $1,900 and $2,000 a year, and other costs push the overall total to $7,100.
In the mysterious process of college admissions, it's generally considered that the harder a school is to get into, the better it probably is. In fact, part of the lure of the Ivy League has always been that its schools turn away more students than they accept.
This fall, for the first time, Barron's Educational Services Inc., a New York-based publisher of guides to American colleges, rated Georgetown University as one of the toughest colleges to get into, and officials at Georgetown couldn't be more pleased.
According to Barron's, Georgetown is one of fewer than 25 colleges in the nation where admissions are "most competitive," placing it in a category with Harvard, Princeton, Amherst, Dartmouth, Williams and Yale. Georgetown was the only college in the Washington area to receive this rating.
"The more difficult admission is perceived to be, the higher the reputation of a school is perceived to be," says Charles A. Deacon, Georgetown's director of admissions. "We're playing in the big leagues. We're competing with the bigname schools for the top students."
For Georgetown, the big leagues has meant that its admissions staff faces a complex and sophisticated task.
"In this process," explains Deacon, "you're dealing with a lot of subtleties. You have minority considerations. You have geographic considerations and alumni relationships to think about. You have to take into account your relationships with the secondary schools and how that's going to affect recruiting in the future."
By the deadline next Monday, Deacon and his 10-member staff will have received 7,000 to 8,000 applications, all competing for 1,240 spaces in the freshman class that will enter Georgetown next fall. Between then and decision day April 15, Deacon and his staff, in conjunction with faculty and student representatives from Georgetown's five undergraduate schools, will have spent thousands of hours poring over each candidate's file, weighing carefully the pros and cons of each application, before deciding whom to admit and whom to turn away.
It is a process that has become an annual ritual at colleges and universities in the Washington area and, indeed, throughout the country. Especially at Georgetown, though, the ritual has become exceedingly complicated and competitive in recent years.
Since the beginning of the 1970s, applications at most other colleges and universities have remained stable, or in some cases declined. At Georgetown, they have soared almost 70 percent, from 4,401 in 1971 to 7,410 last year. Increasingly, says Deacon, Georgetown finds itself competing with the Ivy League schools for top students, and the university now gets 40 to 60 applications each a year from such prestigious preparatory schools as Andover, Exeter and Choate. At the beginning of the decade Georgetown was getting less than a half dozen applications a year from each of those schools.
The annual admissions cycle begins in June, just a few weeks after the previous year's cycle winds down. Deacon and his staff go off for a week together to set goals and priorities for the coming year. A year ago, they decided on a policy of offering financial aid to any student who needed it.
It cost Georgetown $300,000 extra a year, but Deacon feels it was worth it.
"It's important because we're a highcost institution, (tuition is $7,100 a year)" he said. "We don't want to lose good students because they can't afford to pay." Currently, about 45 percent of the freshman class receives some financial aid.
Last June, Deacon and his staff decided they needed to pay more attention to students from states in the Deep South, where applications have been lagging. "We had only one application from Mississippi last year," Deacon said. "This year we're up to three. Strategically, it's important to be able to say we've got students from all 50 states." Georgetown does, in fact, have students from all 50 states, and Deacon means to keep it that way.
In between summer vacations, staff members will map out fall travels for recruitment and will schedule interviews and appointments. The result: By the time school opens in August or early September, their schedules will be booked solid through the first of the year.
Helping out in recruiting, interviewing and screening is a network of 1,400 alumni in 140 cities around the world. During the autumn they will host receptions in 52 cities for prospective students and their parents. From a pool of approximately 35,000 inquiries Georgetown receives each year from potential applicants, a computer will sort out all those who live within traveling distance of any reception, and each will receive an invitation.
During the autumn months, Deacon will spend about three weeks on the road; most of his staff members, six to eight weeks, searching out top academic talent. In part, he ascribes his recruiting success in recent years to the fact that Georgetown, although a Catholic college, has become increasingly attractive to students who are not Catholic.
The Washington location is another factor. "Along with Boston, Washington has become one of the two most popular places on the East Coast to go to college. It is a very desirable place to be for a student, particularly the type of student who wants his college life to consist of more than just the campus."
Once the applications are in, there is always a small percentage so clearly superior that the decision to accept is routine. Likewise, there is a similar percentage so clearly unqualified that there is no question but to reject them.
But for the majority of applications, those in the middle, it is, as Deacon says, a process fraught with subtleties.
Each application is reviewed by a five-member committee; a member of the admissions staff, three faculty members and one student from the undergraduate school to which the student is applying -- the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business Administration, the School of Languages and Linguistics, the School of Foreign Service or the School of Nursing.
Candidates are rated on a scale of 1 to 10 on academic and personal qualifications. Then, the admissions staff meets daily from mid-afternoon until 8 or 9 at night to consider the more subtle parts of the admissions process.
Like most schools, Georgetown is looking for a heterogeneous student body with a reasonable minority representation. Thus, in a close call situation, the admissions staff might argue in favor of a black applicant or a Chicano. Similarly, there are certain schools with which Georgetown is trying to develop a relationship in the hopes of being sent top applicants in future years.
"Our ability to draw students from those schools in the future can be traced to our responding well to the applications we're getting from them now," Deacon said.
And, of course, there are considerations about relatives of alumni and geographical distribution, he added.
To fill its 1,240 slots, Georgetown will accept about 2,600 students this year, assuming that some eventually will decide on other schools. For instance, Georgetown has found it is competing with a pool of several other schools; most frequently among them are Harvard, Princeton, Yale, the University of Virginia and the University of Pennsylvania.
In the two weeks between April 15 and the deadline for a response from the applicants, the alumni network swings into action again. In cities across the country, the alumni sponsor "holding parties" in an effort to persuade students accepted by Georgetown to choose Georgetown over other schools.
"We do pretty well," said Deacon. "There are always a few who will say, 'I really like Georgetown and I prefer Washington to Philadelphia, but after all, the University of Pennsylvania is an Ivy League school.' Maybe against the very top we could do better, but generally we do all right."