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Record number of undergraduate students apply to Northeastern for fall 2021

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Northeastern University received more than 75,000 undergraduate applications for the 2021-22 academic year—a record number that university officials attribute to a range of factors, including its leadership in experiential learning, a strengthening global brand, and a successful reopening of the university during the pandemic.

Northeastern received 75,233 applications for fall 2021, a 17 percent jump from the previous year, when 64,428 students applied for the fall 2020 freshman class. Applications from students identifying as Black or African American increased by 29 percent; applications from students identifying as Hispanic or Latinx increased by 22 percent; and applications from students identifying as American Indian or Alaska Native increased by 34 percent.

Liz Cheron, dean of admissions at Northeastern, credits the university’s well-executed reopening as a factor that attracted a larger-than-ever number of students who want the on-campus Northeastern experience.

“We have a successful case study this year that builds confidence for students and families that are hyper aware—having lived through hybrid or virtual high school education—of what it means to be able to attend Northeastern in person,” she says.

Northeastern’s robust COVID-19 testing and contact tracing protocols have been the bedrock of its reopening plan. Since August, the university has administered more than 600,000 COVID-19 tests at the Cabot Testing Center, a large-scale testing facility inside the Cabot Physical Education Center. Tests are processed at the Life Sciences Testing Center, a state-of-the-art facility on Northeastern’s Burlington, Mass., campus. Additionally, Northeastern began administering COVID-19 vaccines in January, distributing hundreds of doses so far.

The international applicant pool has increased by 6 percent—a more modest upward trend that is likely the result of the past months’ restrictions on travel and the difficulty in obtaining visas to study in the U.S., according to Mallik Sundharam, associate vice president of enrollment management at Northeastern.

But, Cheron adds, programs such as NUflex and NU Start provide students with the flexibility to “begin where they are” and attend in person eventually.

Northeastern’s interdisciplinary Humanics model (a combination of majors that connects technological, data, and human literacies) continues to attract students. Applications for combined majors across various STEM and social science disciplines increased by 25 percent over last year.

As the pandemic has affected every aspect of life at Northeastern and the world at large, so too has it affected the subjects that potential students plan to study. Applications to the Bouvé College of Health Sciences increased 44 percent for the fall.

“It’s likely that the pandemic is inspiring the next generation of global health leaders,” Cheron says.

Another possible factor in the jump in applicants is the university’s move to a test-optional approach. In April, Northeastern announced that it would allow prospective students for the 2021-22 academic year to apply with or without standardized test results, a decision prompted largely by the widespread cancellation of standardized test-taking opportunities during the pandemic, and uncertainty about future test dates.

The university’s test-optional policy applied to undergraduate and graduate students applying for the 2021-22 academic year. Students applying to programs that traditionally required the SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, or MAT were not required by the university to supply the results of those tests, although they were welcome to submit scores voluntarily.

Cheron says that more than half the applicant pool opted to apply without providing standardized testing scores.

“With a year under our belts already,” Cheron says of the university’s pandemic planning, “we’re proving to students and families that Northeastern is a place where they can find a sense of normalcy.”

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