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The number of early applications increased by approximately 25 percent this year, partly as a result of MIT’s new partnership with QuestBridge, a non-profit organization that connects low-income students with top colleges.

MIT received about 5,000 early applications this year, up from last year’s 3,937 total, said Dean of Admissions Stuart Schmill ’86. A final count for this year was not yet available yesterday.

The more than 600 students who applied to MIT through QuestBridge account for about half this year’s increase in applications.

The QuestBridge’s National College Match program is meant to help “outstanding low-income high school seniors gain admission and full four-year scholarships to some of the nation’s most selective colleges,” according to the organization’s website.

QuestBridge applicants fill out an application separate from MIT’s but which is at least as rigorous, Schmill said. “It has all of the data and questions we otherwise ask,” along with “significantly more questions and essays than any other university’s application,” Schmill said.

Early action and QuestBridge applications are considered in the same way, and students have the same test requirements, Schmill said.

Applications submitted through QuestBridge are screened by the organization before MIT reads them. “Every partner school sets its own kind of filter on how many applications they’d like to read and how much they’d like us to screen,” said Michael McCullough, QuestBridge’s founder and president.

QuestBridge also “customizes the recruiting experience for every partner school,” said McCullough. “Each school tells us what they want and we tailor it to their request,” he said. Each partner school might be considering a different group of applicants.

QuestBridge has begun a new program targeting students interested in math, science, and technology, McCullough said.

Although QuestBridge offers scholarships to admitted students, “the university is responsible for those scholarships,” Schmill said. Admitted QuestBridge students will be covered by MIT’s need-based financial aid package. Most, but not all QuestBridge applicants who are matched with a college come from households earning less than $60,000 annually, according to the organization’s website. MIT provides free tuition for students whose families earn less than $75,000 per year.

MIT decided to partner with QuestBridge because “we saw there were a lot of students that were not otherwise thinking about MIT,” Schmill said. The Institute’s partnership will last for at least the next two years.

Colleges who participate in QuestBridge pay the organization recruiting fees of about $40,000–$70,000, The Wall Street Journal reported last year. “There is an annual fee,” said Schmill, but per student it’s “quite inexpensive for us.”

Schmill said that he suspects there are “some highly talented students” amongst the QuestBridge applicants. Those people “would not have applied to us otherwise,” he said.

While MIT has cooperated with other mostly regional or community programs that identify potential applicants, QuestBridge is the largest and “first national scale program” MIT has partnered with to get connected with applicants.

The 26 QuestBridge partner colleges include the California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Yale University, and Princeton University, but not Harvard University. In Yale’s first year in the program, it admitted 56 applicants from QuestBridge to its class of 2012.

Participation in the outreach program cannot fully explain this year’s increase in early applicants. Schmill suggested that perhaps more students this year think a “math, science, or technology centered education is valuable.”