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Originally published May 23, 2013 at 8:09 PM | Page modified May 24, 2013 at 8:48 AM

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More applicants make getting into UW tougher this year

This year it was harder to get into the University of Washington for freshmen, even though the university increased the size of the class by 200, including 150 new spots for in-state students.

Seattle Times higher education reporter

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It got a little harder to get into the University of Washington as a flood of high-school hopefuls submitted applications last winter to become Huskies in fall 2013.

More than 30,000 students applied for freshman admission, an increase of nearly 16 percent from the previous year and the largest pool of applicants ever. “We were taken aback by the increase,” said UW admissions director Philip Ballinger.

Just what might be driving the surge is unclear, Ballinger said, although a decision by the University of California system to tighten admissions for its own resident students could have played a role.

The biggest increase in applications to the UW came from out-of-state students, but the number of in-state and international applicants grew, too.

For most of the rest of Washington’s public colleges, the number of applications for fall 2013 has remained relatively flat, or even fallen. Demographically, the number of high-school seniors in Washington is down slightly because of population trends, but the numbers are expected to increase in the coming years.

The UW saw a 10 percent increase in the number of in-state applicants, and it’s planning to enroll about 150 more Washington students this fall than last year, with a target enrollment of 4,150. Those students would make up 67 percent of the freshman class.

The increase in applications meant that a smaller percentage of the applicants got an admission offer, Ballinger said. About 61 percent of Washington students who applied received a “Congratulations!” letter, telling them they’d been admitted. Last year, about 65 percent were admitted.

The out-of-state applicant pool grew by 23 percent. Those students made up nearly 40 percent of all applications received, and they’ll make up about 17 percent of the freshman class.

Many of those students are from California. Earlier this spring, UC officials said they cut admissions to in-state residents by more than 2 percent, and increased out-of-state and international admissions by a combined total of 21 percent. Out-of-state students pay about double the rate that in-state students pay, and like most states, California is strapped for higher-education dollars.

In the spring of 2011, the UW was criticized for moving in the same direction after it cut the number of resident students by several hundred and admitted more nonresident students as a way to make up for state budget cuts. In 2011, the state Legislature passed a bill requiring the UW to admit at least 4,000 resident students a year.

Ballinger thinks California students may be eyeing the UW because of the cuts. And with the UC system accepting more out-of-state students, “it goes in the other direction to some degree, too,” he said — that is, Washington residents may stand a better chance of getting into California schools than they have in the past.

The average GPA for an admitted UW freshman remained 3.77, the same as last year, but the average SAT combined score for critical reading and math rose by about 10 points, to 1238.

Ballinger said the UW admitted slightly fewer international students than in previous years; he expects 950 students from other countries to become part of the freshman class, or about 15 percent. In previous years, that number has been as high as 18 percent.

He said the UW is trying to balance the size of its international and out-of-state enrollment, growing the number of students from other states and slightly shrinking the number of international students.

The UW is also trying to attract students from a wider geographic area, including from the Middle East, Turkey and India. Most now are from China, he said.

Elsewhere in the state, none of the other public schools saw a significant change in applicants. Western Washington University’s (WWU) freshman applicant pool decreased slightly in size, although the university expects to have a slightly larger class this fall than in previous years.

Washington State University saw its application numbers grow slightly. Its freshman class is projected to be 3,800, the third-largest in its history, although smaller than it was in 2012 and 2011.

Eastern Washington University had its second-largest application pool ever, a trend the university attributes to its tuition rates, which are the lowest of any of Washington’s four-year schools.

Several universities reported especially strong numbers of minority applicants. WWU admissions director Clara Capron said 26 percent of WWU students who have been accepted so far are students of color — the highest number and highest percentage Western has ever had.

Hispanic enrollment has grown by 165 percent in the last three years at Central Washington University, said spokeswoman Linda Schactler. And Ballinger said minority enrollment numbers are also up at the UW.

Meanwhile, the state’s community colleges — which have an open admission policy, meaning they are open to all students — have seen a slight decline in enrollment during the past year.

Enrollment dropped 3.4 percent between fall 2011 and fall 2012. State community-college officials say it’s partly from the decision to close or reduce the size of some programs because of state budget cuts.

The falling unemployment rate also has an impact — when jobs are available, community-college students, who are generally older than traditional college students, often leave school or sign up for fewer classes to take a job.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @katherinelong.

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