As a general rule, the more applicants colleges reject, the better they look. Being more selective in the admissions process, after all, improves a college’s position in the rankings a great deal. It’s because of this that many schools have put a lot of effort into increasing the number of students who apply.

But one Pennsylvania college is saying the hell with it. According to an article by Jacques Steinberg in the New York Times:

Ursinus [College] decided in 2005 that it needed to get bigger. Specifically, the college wanted to increase its freshman class by about 100 — to just under 550 — in part to bring in students to fill classes in new disciplines like biochemistry and environmental studies.

[Ursinus’s vice president for enrollment, Richard] DiFeliciantonio, hired a direct-marketing firm from Virginia, Royall & Company, and its initial recommendations were that Ursinus waive the $50 application fee and essay requirement. In one year, from 2005 to 2006, applications to Ursinus more than doubled, to 4,413 from 1,725. Two years later, they grew by another 40 percent, to 6,179.

This is a very common tactic of admissions staff at colleges. But then Ursinus decided to back off. The trouble was that while the college was getting a lot more applicants, and rejecting a lot more, it turned out that not a whole lot of those it admitted ended up attending the school (this is the “yield”). It was too easy to apply and it turned out a lot of the applicants didn’t actually want to go to Ursinus.

So last year Ursinus ended the contract with Royall, started requiring that applicants submit an essay, and now required prospective students to include a graded high school paper in their applications. The $50 application fee is back too, at least for students who apply by mail.

And so Ursinus, a 1,700-student liberal arts college in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, took the unusual step of making it harder to apply. This year is expecting fewer applications but Ursinus plans to be able to actually enroll more of them.

This increase in the size of the school, in order to educate more people and improve the ratio of students who apply to the school vs. those who actually wish to (and are qualified to) attend, is something for which Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson advocated in the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this month. They wrote that colleges should increase their size in order to “improve the [admissions] process and, in doing so, reduce the maniacal pressures on the pre-college lives of elite students.

It looks like it can also reduce the pressure on some colleges. [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer