The power of Union: Record number of students apply to join Class of 2026

Publication Date

Near the end of her college search, Danielle Brown narrowed her choices to Union and a couple of other places.

The first-generation student from Chicago liked the feel of a small campus with exceptional academics and a low student-to-faculty ratio.

A photo of Danielle Brown '26

“As soon as I stepped on campus, I completely fell in love with the place,” said Danielle Brown, who applied early decision. The Chicago teen was accepted as a member of the Class of 2026. “I could tell Union really cares about its students. I’m really excited to start.”

“I wanted to go somewhere where all of my professors know me by name,” said Brown. “I didn’t want to be another statistic to them.”

When she attended an open house last fall, it did not take long for her to make her choice.

“As soon as I stepped on campus, I completely fell in love with the place,” said Brown, who applied early decision. “I could tell Union really cares about its students. I’m really excited to start.”

Brown is among the record 8,436 prospective students who applied to join the Class of 2026. The number is an 11 percent jump from the previous record for applications, 7,622, received two years ago for the Class of 2024.

The surge in applications was evident in the early action option, in which 3,165 applied to Union, compared to 2,620 a year ago. Now in its third year, early action gives students an opportunity to apply by Nov. 1. Students are notified of their admissions status in late December and have until May 2 to accept an offer. Unlike early decision, early action is non-binding. If admitted, a student is not required to attend.

The number of students applying through early decision dipped slightly, from 296 a year ago to 275. Students applying under early decision have made a commitment to attend Union if they are accepted.

Overall, the number of applications rose in key demographic areas from a year ago, including female students (up 499), traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic groups (up 119) and international students (up 665).

In addition, there were 169 more applications from outside the Northeast, Union’s stronghold, than last year.

The applicant pool represents 48 states and U.S. territories, along with 130 countries.

The expected size of the Class of 2026 is 570 students.

Matt Malatesta ‘91, vice president for Admissions, Financial Aid and Enrollment, attributed the growth in applications to several factors.

A pandemic that is now in its third year upended the typical college admissions process, causing a wave of uncertainty for anxious students. Greater numbers than usual applied to more selective schools like Union, resulting in a bump in applications at many schools.

The early action option helps broaden and diversify Union’s applicant pool by adding more academically talented students from across a wider geographic range.

Malatesta also cited the Making U Possible initiative, which expands financial aid scholarship eligibility by targeting middle class families, and the recent partnership with the Schuler Foundation to attract more Pell Grant-eligible students to Union as other factors that encouraged more students to apply to Union.

The return of in-person campus visits after a long stretch of virtual visits certainly helped.

“We are constantly out there telling the ‘Union story’ but there is nothing that can capture how special this place is than for prospective students and their parents to come see for themselves,” Malatesta said.

The College remains committed to meeting the full financial need of all admitted students. The average need-based scholarship at Union is $43,800, and the average merit scholarship is $20,000.

Regular decision letters will be sent by March 18. All students offered admission have until May 2 to accept their offers.

Danielle Brown is eager to start her college journey. She is a part of the Schuler Scholars program, which identifies high-achieving teens from nontraditional backgrounds in the Chicago area and prepares them for admission to top colleges and universities.

“I am looking forward to being away from home for the first time and beginning my college experience,” she said. “I’m grateful to be able to do that at Union, where I know I will have the support to be successful.”