When most colleges see increases in applications, they admit more students, assuming a large number of them will choose to attend other schools.
But Bob Mundy, director of admissions, said the yield for admitted applicants who chose to attend the University last year was unpredictably high, leading to a decrease in the number of acceptances this year.
"Clearly we think we've become a more popular option out there," Mundy said.
According to Don Bishop, associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment, 16,952 high school seniors applied for a spot in the Class of 2016 and 3,850 were admitted. Last year, the University received 16,520 applications and accepted 4,019 students, Bishop said.
The number of international applicants and applicants of color also rose this year, he said.
Bishop said this year's acceptance rate was 22.7 percent, down from 24 percent last year and 29 percent two years ago. He said 2,500 applicants were put on the waitlist.
Because so many admitted applicants chose to attend Notre Dame, not a single student was accepted off the waitlist last year, Mundy said.
"We've admitted about 170 fewer students than last year, with the goal of being able to admit some students off the waitlist," he said.
Admitted applicants' academic qualifications remained impressive, with a median SAT score of 1460 and ACT score of 33, Bishop said. The median high school class performance for the admitted class was also the top one to two percent, he said.
"We could admit 75 percent of our applicants and still have a group that would be very successful here," Mundy said.
Bishop said these statistics have improved greatly in the past few years.
"About a fourth or a fifth of the class that five years ago would have gained admission, in today's competition, would not," Bishop said.
The number of admitted legacy children remains higher than at most elite colleges, Bishop said. Twenty-four percent of this year's admitted class is a legacy compared to about 12 percent at most top 10 schools, he said, but this is because legacy applicants tend to be very qualified.
"Notre Dame alumni have traditionally had more children, and Notre Dame alumni children are more loyal to applying to Notre Dame," Bishop said. "Even though there is this special consideration, a disproportionate ... share of our top students are children of alumni."
The increase in exceptional applicants and decrease in available spots contributed to more selectivity in the admissions process, Bishop said.
"We're more selective, but we're more on mission," Bishop said. "Once the numbers get so high in the academic credentials of the student, it's not necessary to continue to use those numbers to distinguish one student from another."
Bishop said admissions officers choose qualified students by examining characteristics that fit the Notre Dame educational philosophy.
"You start looking at the other attributes ... [such as] intellectual drive and ambition ... their creativity, their sense of service to others, their leadership ... [and] being active in service and faith," he said.
Because most of the admitted applicants will have been accepted to other top schools, many students' decisions will rely on financial aid, Bishop said.
"The financial aid staff is going to be working extremely hard on counseling families and assisting them," he said. "Notre Dame will likely spend over $27 million in financial aid to the freshman class, and that's gift aid. Over the course of four years, it will be over $100 million."
Bishop said other accepted applicants will base their decisions on campus visits and current students should look out for them.
"All the students on campus should know that we're going to have a lot of visiting admitted students who are going to be comparing us with a lot of great choices," he said. "We're hoping that our students will take this opportunity to reach out to the visiting students and tell them about Notre Dame."
Overall, Mundy said he is pleased with the Class of 2016.
"It's safe to say we feel really good about the group as it stands right now," he said.