Northeastern University Application Data Disputed

From the Globe:

A Northeastern U tally claiming is overstating demand, according to a Globe review of data. That’s because the university simply reports its total applicant list. It makes no effort to gauge who is uniquely applying to Northeastern, or even "really wants to go to Northeastern."

Northeastern reported a record high of nearly 43,000 hopefuls applied to Northeastern for 2,800 spots in the incoming freshman class. But many of those applicants are also applying to other colleges.

Got that? The Globe says the 43,000 isn't a real number.

One student called Northeastern a "stretch for me, I don't really have the SATs. I wanted to just apply in case." Another student said Northeastern is a "safety school for me, I'm pretty sure I'll go to Holy Cross." In fact, previous records suggest that many of these 43,000 will not attend Northeastern even if admitted.

Confronted by a Globe reporter, a Northeastern admissions officer said in a statement: What do you want us to do? We're giving you the only data we have. And we're reporting it consistently each year."

Oh wait.

There was NOT actually a Globe story questioning how colleges report application data, and whether they screen for "unique" or "likely to attend" students in some way.

I made up the story above. There is zero question about the authenticity of the Northeastern numbers.

In fact, the Globe runs uncritical stories like "Applications to Northeastern Surge" or "Harvard’s admission rate drops to 5.8 percent" all the time.

Like last week, for example.

Or two weeks before that, for MIT.

Why does the Globe run these stories about university admissions aggregate numbers? After all, the Globe could choose to only run stories on early decision data. In those cases, typically, each applicant is unique.

But that's not what happens. Running "total applicant" stories is a reasonable-but-imperfect way to show demand.

Instead, running stories to "dispute demand" is reserved for charter schools. Front page stories, even. Above the fold. Like today.

For the crime of simply reporting the only information (to my knowledge) that is available: each school's unique number of applications, added together.