Feb 5, 2016

Princeton announces plans to accept transfers and increase undergraduate enrollment

Princeton University

For the first time since 1990, Princeton University will admit transfer students as part of a larger plan to increase the size of the undergraduate program by 500 students.

As one element of a larger strategic plan targeted for implementation by 2018, the university announced that undergraduate enrollment will increase by 125 students per class leading to an additional 500 students overall. To support the expansion, Princeton will plan for the construction of an additional (seventh) residential college, with the “expectation of a further increase in the number of undergraduate students in the future.”

According to information provided on the Common Data Set, Princeton’s undergraduate enrollment averaged about 4,700 from 2001 to 2006. It then began to steadily rise and crossed 5,000 for the first time in fall 2009. In fall 2015, Princeton recorded 5,402 undergrads (note that this number conflicts with the 5,200 undergrads suggested by the strategic plan).

To support future expansion, the Princeton plan calls for a reinstatement of a “small” transfer admissions program as a way “to attract students with diverse backgrounds and experiences,” such as students from low-income backgrounds and military vets, including some who began their studies at community colleges. 

According to Inside Higher Ed, Janet L. Marling, executive director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students, said the timing of Princeton’s announcement “could not be more perfect” as the institute’s advisory board will be discussing the issue of transfer students at elite private institutions this week.

Marling added that Princeton’s plan supports “the growing narrative that transfer students matter, that they add value to a campus community, and that [they] are capably of succeeding at elite institutions.”

While transfer opportunities vary enormously from institution to institution, the most competitive colleges tend to admit incredibly few students that way. In fact, transfer admission rates tend to be even lower than the already impossible freshman admission rates at these schools.

For example, in the fall of 2013 (most recent data available), Harvard admitted less than one percent of its transfer applicants. In the fall of 2014, Yale admitted 36 out of 1091 applicants and MIT admitted 18 out of 535 prospective transfers. And in the fall of 2015, Stanford admitted 20 out of 2023 transfer applicants.

It’s fair to say these same schools have very high freshman retention and graduation rates, so unless class size is increased, very few spots are likely to open up.

And this is why the willingness of Princeton to dedicate part of its expansion plans to transfers is such an important step forward for those anxious to see more opportunities for transfers at highly selective institutions.

In other areas, Princeton’s strategic plan calls for

  • Growing and developing the university’s international programs, including study abroad
  • Building an interdisciplinary program and new facilities in environmental studies
  • Investment, including new facilities, to support new and existing research and teaching programs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science
  • Expansion of the number of faculty in computer science and in the fields of statistics and machine learning 

For more information on the Princeton University Strategic Framework visit the Princeton website.

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