University attracts strong freshman group; 97 percent in top half of graduating class

For freshman National Merit Scholar Rachel Dusek, coming to UW-Eau Claire was a decision based not only on the physical qualities of the university but also the academic opportunities.

Dusek is one of four freshmen National Merit Scholars on campus this fall as the university has managed to attract yet another high achieving freshmen class.

Successful students are nothing new to the Eau Claire campus. Currently there are 23 National Merit Scholars attending the university.

Students with a score in the top 1 percent on the PSAT are candidates for National Merit scholarships. Other qualifications include recommendations and class rank. National Merit Finalists get their in-state tuition paid in full for four years by either college or corporate sponsors. Since 1982, Eau Claire has enrolled three to eight college-sponsored merit scholars each year.

Merit Scholars are not the only students the university has to be proud of though.

Although academic admissions statistics are close to those of past years, they consistently remain high, said Robert Lopez, executive director of enrollment and director of admissions.

In all, the 2,099 new freshmen averaged an ACT score of 23.6 with 49 percent graduating in the top quarter of their high school class, he said. Ninety-seven percent of the freshmen graduated in the top half of their class.

There are also 37 Wisconsin Academic Excellence Scholars. These are students who ranked either first or second academically in their class, Lopez said.

However, one thing that impressed Dusek about the university was the Honors Program, which is a model for other state and regional honors programs.

“Eau Claire has higher honors eligibility criteria than any other school in the UW System besides Madison,” Ronald Mickel, director of the Honors Program, said.

Within the freshman class, 84 students were eligible to participate in the university’s Honors Program. All of them chose to do so.

To be eligible for the program, students must have scored a 28 or higher on their ACT test and be in the top 5 percent of their graduating class.

Like the Honors Program, university admissions requirements are more selective than other universities, aiming to recruit those students with ACT scores over 21. Lopez said because of the challenging standards, high quality students are more motivated to apply to the university.

Statistically, Eau Claire has always ranked in the top four of the UW System schools in terms of the quality of students it attracts. Other top schools include Madison and La Crosse, Lopez said.

“It’s a great university with emphasis on undergraduate studies,” he said.