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More Women Are Coming to MIT

By Sarah Y. Keightley
Editor in Chief

Forty percent of this year's freshman class is female. It is the largest number of women ever admitted to MIT, according to Assistant Director of Admissions Zaragoza A. Guerra III.

The Admissions Office attributes this increase to a number of factors, including a new viewbook that focuses more on student life, a two-step application process, and a special letter sent to 1,200 prospective women applicants who scored well on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. These changes were made last fall when the Class of 1998 was applying to college.

Two other factors resulting in more women coming to MIT were higher attendance at the Campus Preview Weekend in April and an admissions video that has been out for about two years, Guerra said. There were about 50 to 75 more students than usual at the Campus Preview this past spring.

"The Admissions Office did make a conscious effort to recruit women into the Institute" by addressing their concerns and offering them encouragement, Guerra said. This helped increase the number of female applicants so the Institute was able to accept more female students, he said.

The overall number of applicants increased as well, Guerra said. "The quality of applicants was very fine," he said.

In the new viewbook that is mailed along with the application for admission, the Admissions Office attempted to "confront head-on a lot of the stereotypes" that prospective students had of MIT, Guerra said. It focuses more on student life and answering concerns that applicants might have about MIT, Guerra said.

The new publication makes an effort to show what MIT has to offer socially and culturally, he said. People "may not know all of the activity that goes on here," he added.

In the past "we did do surveys and so forth asking students what they thought of our publications in comparison to other universities," Guerra said. "Our response rate beforehand wasn't too high. [Previously] students had the impression that MIT was a sterile, cold place."

Letter generates interest

Assistant Director of Admissions Lisa J. Oliveira and Associate Director of Admissions Marilee Jones coordinated the effort to recruit more high school women, and they asked the Dean of the School of Science Robert J. Birgeneau to write a letter to the 1,200 prospective women who scored well on the SAT.

Of the women who received the letter, 41 percent decided to apply to MIT, Birgeneau said.

One of Birgeneau's three daughters attended MIT and graduated in 1993. "My daughter who went to MIT was relatively the happiest," he said. I feel good about my daughter's experience here."

In his letter Birgeneau wrote that because his daughter attended MIT, "I know from her firsthand that MIT is a wonderful place for a bright, ambitious young woman to obtain an undergraduate education. We are very proud of the academic performance of our women students at MIT."

"The letter told [prospective students] MIT was a human place," Birgeneau said.

"In an ideal world, our students and faculty would represent the actual diversity in the United States," Birgeneau said. This recruitment effort is progress in making MIT's student population more balanced, he said.

As a result of his letter, Birgeneau said he has received personal letters and telephone calls from prospective applicants and their parents.

Birgeneau said that he is not aware of other universities using this approach to reach out to prospective female students, though administrators from other schools seem interested in this idea. The new female president of the University of Pennsylvania expressed interest in writing a similar letter, Birgeneau said.