Undeterred by the shifting U.S. political climate, international students will attend the University of Washington in record numbers this fall, and the UW will also see its largest in-state freshman class.
All winter long, college admissions officers asked if President Donald Trump’s on-again, off-again travel ban would have a chilling effect on the number of international students coming to the U.S. to study.
The answer, at least for the University of Washington’s Seattle campus, seems to be no.
Although fewer international students applied to the UW this year, more accepted an offer of admission — a surprise to the admissions office, which had been expecting a downturn.
At the same time, the university has enrolled its largest in-state freshman class ever — 4,450 Washington students.
How freshmen compare
Average GPAs of students admitted to UW Seattle for fall 2017:
• In-state residents: 3.79 (In 2016: 3.78 )
• Out-of-state residents 3.76 (In 2016: 3.76)
• International students: 3.84 (In 2016: 3.87)
Average ACT scores of students admitted:
• In-state residents: 29 (in 2016: 28)
• Out-of-state residents: 30 (in 2016: 30)
Average SAT scores of students admitted:
• In-state residents: 1289
• Out-of-state residents: 1355
• International students: 1364
Note: Because the SAT changed significantly this year, comparable scores for 2016 are not available. One-third of U.S. students who apply take the ACT, but very few international students do.
UW Seattle Office of Admissions
All together, the overall class is one of the most diverse in UW history, with a record number of underrepresented minorities — about 15 percent are Hispanic/Latino, African American, American Indian or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. The class also has the largest percentage, in recent years, of students who are the first in their families to go to college; nearly 38 percent come from families where neither parent graduated from a four-year college.
The UW has been able to diversify the class without lowering the average grade-point average and standardized test scores, said Philip Ballinger, the associate vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions, during a UW Board of Regents meeting Thursday.
The number of international students who said yes to UW’s admissions offer was a surprise, Ballinger said after the meeting, and “in hindsight, I wish we’d been less aggressive” in offering spots. As a result, no one on the waitlist was admitted because the “yield” — the number of students who enrolled after getting an acceptance letter — was high, when the admissions office thought it would drop.
If international student enrollment had declined, that could have affected the UW’s budget because students from outside Washington pay more than three times what a state undergrad pays in tuition. That money essentially subsidizes in-state students, allowing the university to increase the number of residents who can attend, Ballinger said.
Nationally, not every school fared as well with international enrollment, according to survey done by the Institute of International Education. The report showed schools in the South and Midwest with a downturn in the number of students accepting. Some experts believe those parts of the country are perceived as less welcoming of foreigners.
But schools on the East and West coasts did not see that same drop, Ballinger said. He believes the UW, along with many California schools, benefited from strong connections to China — where most international students studying on the West Coast come from.
Although the UW does not recruit in China, international rankings of the top schools in the world put the university in the top tier. At the same time, its tuition for nonresidents — it will be $34,473 in 2017-18 — is still viewed as something of a bargain, Ballinger said. And while living costs are zooming in Seattle, the city is still more affordable than many parts of California.
UW President Ana Mari Cauce said the UW’s admission rate for Washington residents is “exceptionally high” when compared to many West Coast peers, such as the University of California schools. In 2017, the UW admitted 59 percent of in-state applicants.
But Cauce also acknowledged that within the state, many students still remember that not long ago, “it was extraordinarily difficult to get in anywhere, particularly here,” and some students may not be applying because they still believe that’s the case. However, the UW’s in-state freshman applications have risen steadily over the years.
She said she had no interest in making the UW more competitive by raising the average GPA or SAT scores for admitted students. “It’s plenty good,” she said. “That is not a goal for us. We are looking for students who are talented in a range of ways.”
Ballinger said more than 80 percent of Washington students at the top of their class apply to the UW.
But the UW loses some who grew up in the Seattle region and want to go elsewhere for college. It loses others who are intimidated by the university’s size, as well as some who worry they won’t get into the most competitive majors — including engineering, business and computer science.
Earlier this year, the UW changed its admission policy to address that issue in one field. Starting next year, it will begin admitting incoming freshmen directly into its highly competitive College of Engineering.