Fewer Israeli Students Choosing University, Eyeing Colleges Instead

Top candidates still apply to the veteran public universities, but newer colleges are increasingly popular.

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Israel’s universities have retained their hold on the top applicants for undergraduate degrees, but the number of applications they receive has dropped sharply as prospective students increasingly choose from a growing pool of colleges. That, according to figures released Monday by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The number of Israelis applying to local institutions of higher education rose just 1.4% for the 20012-13 academic year, and applications to universities actually dropped.

Only 29,700 people applied to university undergraduate programs, an 18% drop from 2008. But during the same period the number of applicants to colleges rose 19%, to 45,500.

Colleges, such as the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and Sapir College, outside the southern Israeli town of Sderot, were founded in the 1990s to meet the growing demand for higher education. They compete with Israel’s eight universities, which include such world-renowned institutions as Jerusalem’s Hebrew University and Rehovot’s Weizmann Institute.

Despite the declining number of applicants, the government data agency said, the universities continued to be more selective in admissions than the colleges. On average, the universities accepted 67.9% of applicants, compared to 73.6% for the colleges.

Moreover, the average score on the psychometric exam, a standardized test similar to the American SAT that is the main factor in admission to higher education in Israel, was 80.4 points lower for college applicants for the 2012-13 academic year than for university applicants. The average scores on the test, which are reported on a scale of 200-800, was 538.3 for the former and 618.7 for the latter.

The biggest gap in scores between colleges and universities by discipline was in law (152 points). The average psychometric score for applicants to college law programs was 527.1, compared to 679.1 for university law schools. There were narrower, but still significant, gaps also among applicants to architecture and engineering program (102.6 points), business (92 points), humanities (52 points) and social sciences (44 points), the agency said.

The most difficult program to get into at the universities, as measured by acceptance rates, was medicine, where only 31.6% of all applicants were accepted and their average psychometric score was 740 points. The admission rate for architecture and engineering was 59.2%.

After medicine, the university programs with the highest average psychometric scores for accepted students were dentistry (704), electrical engineering and physics (690) and law (679).

Among the easiest university programs to get into based on acceptance rates were agriculture, where 84.6% of all applicants were accepted; humanities (78.8%) and social sciences (74.5%).

While the university law and business administration programs were highly selective, in the colleges these disciplines, which are among the most popular, were among the easiest to get into, with acceptance rates of more than 80%. Even programs in the natural sciences had a high acceptance rate, more than 78%.

Admission rates for fine arts and humanities programs in the colleges were lower, with only half of applicants accepted on average.

Higher education in Israel is still very lopsided where gender is concerned, with many programs receiving applications from either men or women nearly exclusively.

Between 90% and 96% of applicants to study communication disorders, occupational therapy, education (theory and practice), nutrition science, fashion and textile and jewelry design were female. More than 85% of prospective students of computer science and of mechanical, construction, electrical and civil engineering, on the other hand, were male.

As for the Arab-Jewish divide, Israeli Arabs accounted for 56% of Hebrew literature applicants, 68.7% of aspiring English majors, 61.5% of applicants to medical sciences programs and 51% of dental school hopefuls.

Students at Tel Aviv University. Credit: Nir Kafri

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