Increased applications for admission to Temple reflect more than a winning football team

(Emma Lee/WHYY

(Emma Lee/WHYY

When she started applying to colleges, Temple freshman Zoe Lynch thought she wanted to move hours away from her West Chester home. The 18-year-old violin major had her sights set on private liberal arts schools, but she also applied to Temple because of its strong music program. Eventually, Lynch realized she wanted to go to a city school.

“Philly is so up and coming,” she said. “It made Temple a massive draw for me.”

As a member of Temple’s Class of 2019, Lynch is part of the university’s “largest ever” freshman class. And the Class of 2020 is already breaking records. The number of applications for fall of 2016 has “shattered” last year’s record by 15 percent. On average, the applicants have the highest academic marks — 3.63 GPA and 1195 SAT — that the school has seen, and, compared to last year’s numbers, greater diversity: African American candidates have increased by 9 percent, and Latino students by 17 percent.

Some attribute the spike in applications to another set of numbers: 10-4, the Owls most recent football record. Scholars at Harvard and Berkeley have researched the connection between winning teams and undergraduate applications, finding that schools with successful sports programs have greater application draws.

But there is another, more constant factor that has facilitated the university’s popularity: its long-standing commitment to Philadelphia high school students.

Sydney Bassman has worked as a guidance counselor at Bodine High School for International Affairs in Northern Liberties for 12 years.

“When I first started, Temple was a safety school,” she said, “a Philly-kid safety school.”

Now, her top students apply in addition to her more academically average kids. The school has a traveling international admissions team, campuses in Italy and Japan, and a “national brand” that’s grown over the years. Still, Bassman said the university “provides a lot of money for Philly kids with a number of different scholarships.”

Perhaps most notably, the Temple 20/20 Scholarships program gives $5,000 each academic year to qualifying high school students from North Philadelphia neighborhoods. 

The school has become harder to get into, said Bassman, but it hasn’t lost its focus on city youth. “That’s a good thing for my kids,” she said. “It’s a point of pride to go there.”

Sydney Schultz, an 18-year-old Global Studies and Spanish major from Reading, said she chose Temple over University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, Messiah, New York University, George Washington, and American universities.

“Cost was a major factor,” Schultz said, but so was the prospect of joining the Honors program. The program is chock full of perks, Schultz explained, including a stipend to study abroad, and priority housing and class scheduling. 

Schultz often talks about Temple with her friends still in high school. Several of them have applied for fall admission, but football hasn’t come up as a motivating factor.

“I am not a sports person,” she said with a laugh.

For Zoe Lynch, “the hype” surrounding this year’s football team makes her “love being a Temple Owl.” Fall semester highlights included attending pep rallies and donning temporary tattoos to show her Owl pride.Athletics “plays a role” in attracting students, said Karin W. Mormando, Temple’s Director of Admissions.

“Temple is very poised at this point of momentum.” What students really want, she’s found, “is that overall university experience.”

Campus tours highlighting Temple’s amenities have become “a key factor” in recruitment, often abating parents’ concerns of the school’s North Philadelphia location. “Parents might be a little bit apprehensive at first,” Mormando says, “but after the visit, they want to enroll as well.”

In addition to Temple’s “very dynamic scholarship program,” Mormando credits the “Temple Option” as another reason for the university’s greater visibility. In this, its second year, the school’s application allows applicants to answer four short-answer questions in lieu of providing standardized test scores. Twenty-three percent of last year’s applicants applied as test-optional.

This alternative admissions path is an example of the school’s engagement with urban youth not accurately represented by standardized tests. “Access is still an important part of our mission,” said Mormando.

Admissions may have “a higher quality applicant pool” to study, but Mormando doesn’t see the department as “necessarily turning away more kids.” The acceptance rate has hovered around 55 percent, and to accommodate a larger drove of academic achievement, the honors program “probably admitted about 200 more students” last year than it had previously.

Last September, Temple received its highest-ever ranking in U.S. News and World Report, advancing six spots on the “Best Colleges” list of national universities. This was, of course, at the start of the football season, and at the start of the first semester for Zoe Lynch and Sydney Schultz, two entering students who chose Temple for its location and its academic programs.

“I feel very lucky,” said Schultz. “It was a really good choice.”

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