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Women comprise record 40 percent of Class of 1998

By Sarah Y. Keightley

This year's freshman class is 40 percent female, the largest number of women ever admitted to MIT, according to Assistant Director of Admissions Zaragoza A. Guerra III.

"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 could accept more female students, he said.

The overall number of applicants increased as well, Guerra said

When the Institute offered admission to applicants for the Class of 1998 in March, a record number of the offers were for women: 913 of 2,123, or 43 percent. The number of applications from women in the United States increased by 27 percent.

Associate Director of Admissions Elizabeth S. Johnson said that "there were more women in the stronger part of the applicant pool."

The highest percentage of women admitted to a freshmen class before this year was 38 percent in 1987, Johnson said.

Admissions Office officials attribute the rise in female applicants to several factors, including the new viewbook, the current admissions video, and a special letter sent out to 1,200 prospective female applicants who scored well on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

The new viewbook focuses more on student life and answers concerns to "confront head-on a lot of the stereotypes" that applicants have about MIT, Guerra said.

In addition, "our video has won awards as best college video," Johnson said. "We wanted to show that students who come here are articulate, sociable, and have lives outside the classroom," she said.

"We also think our new publications and video are appealing more to women than to men," Johnson added. "Women are less likely to apply when they think that MIT is just for engineering."

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

Birgeneau wrote about his daughter who attended MIT and graduated in 1993. "I know from her firsthand that MIT is a wonderful place for a bright, ambitious young woman to obtain an undergraduate education," he wrote.

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

Other recruiting tactics which have led to more women and more students overall applying to MIT are higher attendance at the Campus Preview weekend in April and telethons. About 50 to 75 more students attended last year's Campus Preview than the year before, Guerra said.

Telethons work well because "it does seem to be important to personalize the communications to the applicants," Johnson said.