FAYETTEVILLE -- Applications to the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville increased after a two-year dip, with the university now allowing prospective first-year students to apply using what's known as the Common Application.
Submitted applications for fall admission increased to 20,334 as of Aug. 15, up about 14% from the 17,913 reported by the university for fall 2019, said Suzanne McCray, UA's top admissions official.
"We have had a great year for applications," McCray said in an email. The total count is still preliminary, she said.
Each year the university admits thousands more students than the number who end up actually attending.
However, the earlier decrease in applications coincided with a dip in enrollment at UA in fall 2019, including a decline in the size of the incoming freshman class.
McCray said some uncertainty remains about this fall. Classes start on Monday, and it's still unknown how the pandemic will end up affecting final enrollment totals.
But McCray described the number of incoming freshman as perhaps slightly greater than last year's class of 4,601 first-time, degree-seeking freshmen. Last year's freshman class was the smallest for UA since fall 2014, when the campus enrolled 4,571 first-time, degree-seeking freshmen, according to university data.
"The class should be over 4,700 but we will leave the exact number for the 11th day [of classes]. We are pleased that the larger number of applicants allowed us to increase new freshman enrollment in an uncertain environment," McCray said.
Preliminary enrollment counts are done on the 11th day of classes and submitted to the state Division of Higher Education.
McCray said she attributed the bump in admissions to expanded outreach by the university during the year, with more school visits and connections with counselors, as well as changes to the application process, including the Common Application.
The Common Application is a nonprofit organization that provides a way for students to apply to more than 900 member colleges and universities using its online application. The Common App last August announced UA as a new member of its membership organization.
"It makes the process of submitting an application to one of those member schools much easier," said Daniel Klasik, an assistant professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Because of that, you generally do expect to see an increase in the number of applications by schools who join in the Common Application."
McCray said that among applications as of Aug. 12 -- as of that date, the total for UA application was 20,307, she said -- about 28% completed the Common Application. Most had submitted an application via UA's internally-developed application, she said.
"Many schools prefer the Common App, so many students who were already planning to apply to the University of Arkansas switched to the more convenient application," McCray said.
Arkansas State University joined the Common Application last year as well.
Joining the Common App "was another way for Arkansas State to get more exposure from international and out-of-state students," said Bill Smith, an ASU spokesman, in an email.
Smith said 44 students who registered to take classes this fall at Arkansas State applied for admission through the Common App. Out of more than 1,200 students who used the Common App to apply to ASU, 303 were admitted, Smith said.
"Most were out of state and international students that we believe we gained thru joining Common App," Smith said.
In September, McCray said the number of first-year students from outside Arkansas enrolling in fall 2019 fell to 2,172 from 2,465 the previous year. Incoming freshmen classes at UA in recent years have been close to a 50-50 split between in-state students and those from outside Arkansas.
McCray said that for fall 2020, applicants from out-of-state increased by a greater percentage than applicants from inside Arkansas, but she added that it was also an increase for the number of in-state applicants and "that level of increase should mean more students enrolled from Arkansas."