For Southwestern University, 2022 is shaping up to be a record year with 15.8% more applications for admission than last year. As of this week, that translated to 4,424 applicants competing for 400 first-year spots in the fall.

Tom Delahunt, Vice President for Strategic Recruitment and Enrollment, believes that by the time the application season is over, Southwestern could see 5,000 applications. He attributes the university’s success to multiple factors, including intentional, targeted marketing that has been developed and the fact that Southwestern’s reputation has grown. Delahunt explains, “We’ve known for generations, what Southwestern can do for people. I think we’re doing a better job of telling that story now than we have in the past, and I think people are starting to get that story. We’re spending much more time and energy on telling people about us.”

Much of that story telling in recruitment takes place in person. Although the COVID-19 pandemic required expanded virtual programming for recruitment, Southwestern was one of the first universities to permit campus visits. “As early as June 2020 when most places were completely shut down, we allowed students and their families to campus under new protocols and wearing a mask,” says Delahunt. “And that helped us. Those sophomores and juniors were beginning their college search, we had a chance to court them in ways that some other schools could not.”

During fall of 2021, the admissions team returned to in-person recruiting in key markets in Texas and nationwide. Dean of Admission Christine Bowman says, “As Southwestern takes a very personalized approach to admission, we were excited to meet students in their communities again, get to hear their questions beyond a computer, and share the Southwestern experience with them.”

Bowman partially credits the rise of applications to the new scholarship program that was announced. Incoming first-year students in the fall of 2022 will be awarded scholarships automatically based on their class rank in high school or their recalculated grade point average (GPA)—whichever is higher. Recalculated GPA is defined as grades earned in core high school courses, namely English language arts, math, science, social studies, and foreign language.

The impact of the Fall 2022 scholarship program is tremendous. It can be renewed for eight semesters and can be used in combination with other financial aid. The plan clearly lays out the amounts each student will receive. For example, a student in the top 5% of their class or with a recalculated GPA of 3.95 or higher, will receive $27,000 - $33,000 per year. A student who is ranked below the top 35% of their class or with a GPA of under 3.00 would receive $15,000-$21,000 per year.

“We wanted to demystify the college funding process and allow families to see up front that they could afford a private liberal arts education at Southwestern,” she says.

Because application growth has been very general—i.e., it can’t be all attributed to one geographic area or out-of-state students or certain majors—Bowman also believes that after two years of the pandemic, students finally want to move away from home. “We are seeing application growth in most of our major metro areas, indicating that students don’t feel the need to stay close to home at this time.” About 5% of the growth comes from out of state.

And while many universities nationwide made the decision during the pandemic to move to test-optional admissions, Southwestern had made that transition the year before the pandemic began—one that may factor into the increase as well.

“Our test optional approach has been attractive to many students who believe that their application is representative of the academic ability and talents without a score,” says Bowman.  “We are always excited to work with these students to determine if Southwestern is the right fit for them. We want to enroll a class of graduates—students who will be successful and walk across the stage in four years.”

Delahunt says that helping students and guidance counselors understand what kind of student will be successful at Southwestern has been key to the increased interest in Southwestern over the past few years.

“We spend a lot of time helping students and guidance counselors understand what kind of student will be successful here. We’re not for everybody but if you’re looking for a certain type of experience, a small personal one-on-one kind of experience, we should be on your list. In the classroom at Southwestern, you’re going to know your instructor’s name and they’re going to know yours. I joke with our students that there’s no back of the classroom here. Everyone is front row. For some students that’s too much, for other students that is exactly what they are looking for,” he says.