BERKELEY, Calif. -- Aspiring attorney Rosie Shatkin was delighted when she was accepted by the law school at the University of California at Berkeley, but not sure she wanted to move 400 miles north or pay for the airfare for a campus visit.
That's when she found out the school was willing to fly her -- and any other admitted student -- from home to check out the campus.
The enticement seems to have worked. Shatkin is now a first-year student at Berkeley's Boalt Hall law school.
''Coming to this school really had a huge impact on my decision,'' said Shatkin. ''It's like a communitarian spirit, 'Once you're accepted, we'll do everything we can in order to make the decision and the transition easier for you,''' she said.
It's all part of an intense campaign to sign up top students as the competition increases to land candidates, admissions officials said.
''Every school wants to put its best foot forward on this one,'' said Victoria Ortiz, dean of students at Boalt. ''There are more highly qualified students who have a great choice.''
Across campus, the Haas School of Business doesn't offer free airfare, but it does ditch plain-vanilla acceptance letters in favor of a personal call -- to all 500 or so students.
Some schools are turning to technology for an edge.
This year, successful applicants to The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University got an e-mail innocuously titled ''admissions status.'' A link in the text took the reader to a jazzy slide show with a shot of a jubilant crowd, the sound of cheering and the message ''Congratulations! You've been admitted!''
The first round of recipients said ''it was the coolest thing they'd ever seen,'' said Liz Riley, admissions director. Meanwhile, the percentage of admitted students deciding to enroll rose to 54 percent from 52 percent the year before.
Berkeley's Boalt has perhaps the most eye-catching enticement with its fly-free program, now in its second year. Tickets are booked at a discount and there's a limit of $350 for out-of-state and $150 for in-state travel, which Ortiz said is usually more than adequate.
Boalt, which gets about 7,000 applicants a year and accepts 800 or so for 270 spaces, spent about $31,000 on the program this year with 123 students accepting the offer.
The percentage of admitted students who enroll has increased from 31 percent in 1999 to 35 percent.
''There are other things that one might spend money on that wouldn't be as effective,'' said Ortiz. ''We strongly believe that if people are going to spend three years of their life in a community, they really ought to know the community.''
Jett Pihakis, director of domestic admissions for the full-time MBA program at Berkeley's Haas School of Business, helps make acceptance calls, sometimes staying up late to call across time zones.
Haas admits fewer than 11 percent of applicants, but ''we still put a tremendous amount of effort into enticing admitted students to join the community, because many top schools are competing for the same exceptional young people,'' said Pihakis.
At the University of Southern California's law school, associate dean Robert M. Saltzman said USC has considered flying out applicants but decided to stay with more traditional methods, such as receptions and putting prospective students in touch with alumni practicing in their area.
Boalt officials are happy with their program, but Ortiz agrees the bedrock of recruiting is treating applicants courteously and making sure they understand the program.
''You need to be able to show them as much as possible what the reality will be for them when they're students, so they don't just get tricked into thinking, 'Oh, well, I'll go to that school because it's in the top 10.'''
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