CU reports record number of applicants, but stops short of crediting 'Prime Effect' for the surge

University admissions officials say they received nearly 68,000 applications, a 20% increase from a year ago.
Posted at 4:49 PM, Mar 07, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-07 21:09:22-05

The University of Colorado at Boulder on Thursday reported a record number of applications for next school year – and its most diverse set of applicants ever – but stopped short of crediting Deion Sanders’s arrival as the school’s head football coach for the surge.

University admissions officials say they received nearly 68,000 applications, a 20% increase from a year ago. As of Wednesday, CU had given offers to roughly 51,000 students, including 14,000 from Colorado, 35,000 from other states and 2,600 international students.

“The number of high school graduates is increasing and those students have many options for post secondary education,” Dr. Amy Hutton, Associate Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management, said in a virtual media briefing Thursday. “We're excited that so many students are interested in continuing their education at CU Boulder.”

This year’s applicant pool was also the most diverse the school has seen, according to CU Assistant Vice Chancellor of Admissions Jennifer Ziegenfus. Here’s the breakdown of the application numbers she shared in Thursday’s briefing:

  • More than 50% increase in applications among African-American and Black students
  • More than 25% increase in Hispanic or Latin American applicants
  • 15% increase in applications among American Indian or Alaskan Native students
  • Overall 29% increase in non-white student applicants

They did not share much demographic data about admitted students, but said CU has accepted students from all 50 states and at least 117 countries.
This year’s applicant pool is also a successful one academically. More than 51% of applicants report a 4.0 GPA or higher, and more than 91% report carrying a 3.5 or better GPA.

While the academic caliber has increased competition for CU’s highly sought after majors like engineering and business, the rate of students waitlisted or denied admission is consistent with recent years, Ziegenfus said.

“It really just goes to show that there continues to be considerable interest in attending CU Boulder because of our strong academic programs and also this really desirable location,” she said.

CU Boulder has often found itself in the national spotlight in recent months following the arrival of Sanders, also known as “Coach Prime,” as the school’s head football coach. Sanders’ unrivaled recruiting prowess led to a massive overhaul of the team’s roster, including his son Shedeur and fellow standout Travis Hunter from Sanders’ previous team at Jackson State.

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The new-look Buffs found early-season success, leading to multiple nationally-televised games including ESPN’s College Gameday coming to Boulder ahead of the Rocky Mountain Showdown against Colorado State. The buzz around the football program brought in millions for the Boulder economy, city officials said.

Still, admissions officials aren’t ready to credit the so-called Prime Effect for the rise in applicants, saying rather that it is a continuation of a trend already underway.

“No doubt, the exposure that Boulder has received since coach Prime was hired has been tremendous,” Ziegenfus said. “It obviously showcases that a number of our national media outlets are attracting applicants from all over the world.”

“But it's really difficult for us to draw that causational line between coach prime and this applicant increase, primarily because applications for CU Boulder specifically for first-year students has been steadily increasing since 2000. So seeing an increase this year is anticipated in sort of continuing with the trend that we've seen over the last few years.”

She says CU’s peer institutions – public universities across the country that are part of the Association of American Universities – have also seen “steady” increases in recent years.

“But certainly the hiring of Coach Prime has been a great contribution,” Ziegenfus continued. “And also just great for anecdotal conversation too, as we're encountering students all over the country and globally, too.”

First-year applicants who have been admitted have until June 1 to confirm their acceptance. That’s also the fall application deadline for transfer student applicants.