Barnard has received a record number of undergraduate applications for the class of 2025. This puts the college among the many selective, historically wealthier universities, including Columbia, that have seen more applicants than ever before amid the coronavirus pandemic—while public universities with smaller endowments and less wealthy students on average scrape for applicants.
The number of applications for the class of 2025 rose by 10 percent from last year—to 10,395—according to a press release from Barnard. The 1,084 accepted students come from 43 states and territories and 40 countries. Sixty-four percent of accepted students identify as women of color, and 19 percent identify as first-generation college students, in comparison to 62 percent and 18 percent, respectively, for the class of 2024. It is unclear how many students identify as low-income.
“Our incoming class is truly impressive, and the record-breaking number of applicants this year is a testament to the value of the education we offer and the Barnard experience as a whole,” said Jennifer Fondiller, Barnard’s vice president for enrollment and communications, in the release.
The news coincides with a record number of applications to Columbia, which saw a 51 percent increase in applications, a trend that can be seen within the rest of the Ivy League and many other elite institutions. In fact, the Ivy League received so many applications that the schools made a joint decision to push back “Ivy Day” and release their regular decisions in early April rather than the traditional late March.
As the coronavirus pandemic has unraveled many of the fundamental tenets of the college admissions process, some college admissions experts attribute the spike in applications at more selective colleges to a widespread shift in how high school students perceive their chances of acceptance. Because of the pandemic, many universities—including all eight Ivy League schools and Barnard—stopped requiring standardized tests for the 2020-21 admissions season. Barnard, in fact, will be test-optional through the 2023 application cycle. Higher scores on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT are strongly correlated with wealth, making it more difficult to gain admission to more elite colleges for low-income students. When testing requirements went away, many students expanded their scopes.
Barnard, despite ranking among the top 20 schools in the United States committed to economic diversity in 2017, is plagued by a problematic wealth gap. In a 2017 report, the New York Times has estimated that on average, 65 percent of students at Barnard come from the top 20 percent of income brackets in the United States, while only 3.5 percent of low-income students who attend Barnard become wealthy adults. Last year, only 38 percent of first-years qualified for financial aid.
In February, Barnard announced a partnership with QuestBridge, a nonprofit catered to low-income students applying to selective colleges, which could serve to slightly increase the number of low-income students at the College. But in part due to Barnard’s relatively small endowment—just more than $363 million, as of 2019—the college has increasingly come to rely on tuition and fees to serve its bottom line, which makes it vulnerable to the same types of structural inequities that incentivize catering to wealthier students. Gross tuition and fees made up more than 60 percent of Barnard’s revenue in fiscal year 2020, while endowment spending was just less than 7 percent.
As applications to institutions like Barnard have soared this past cycle, applications to public colleges and universities nationwide have been on the decline. At the State Universities of New York, for example, applications are down 20 percent, one of the largest drops in history.