NYUAD set to join the Ivy League

New York University's Abu Dhabi campus will be among the world's most selective colleges according to new figures.

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ABU DHABI // New York University's Abu Dhabi campus will be among the world's most selective colleges, demanding an academic performance that would make its inaugural class among the top in the US, according to new figures. The campus, funded entirely by the Government of Abu Dhabi, received applications from more than 9,000 students. Of those, just 189 - or 2.1 per cent - were offered places, making it considerably more selective than the university's New York campus, which admits about 30 per cent of applicants.

Even leading US universities such as Harvard and Yale have admission rates that hover around nine per cent. Measured by their standard assessment test (SAT) scores, the incoming class would rank among America's top six colleges. John Sexton, the president of NYU, has long promised that NYU Abu Dhabi would be the institution's "most selective" campus, describing it in interviews as an "honours college". And the academic profile of its fresher year certainly bears out his aspirations.

To compete with top universities worldwide, NYUAD is offering financial aid packages on par with the best universities in America. "We did commit to students and their families that they would not need to take on debt to finance an NYUAD education," said Josh Taylor, a spokesman for the university. "We knew that to attract the top students, we had to compete with the generous financial aid packages offered in the US, while factoring in the fact that many top schools outside of the US are close to, if not entirely, free."

The 150 students who accepted their places and will make up the campus's inaugural freshman class hail from 39 countries, with the vast majority coming from outside the region. Around five per cent are nationals, eight per cent are UAE residents and 14 per cent come from elsewhere in the Arab world. "Our goal was to attract the top students in the world, without regard to their national origin," Mr Taylor said. "That said, we remain highly focused on recruiting UAE residents - and UAE nationals, in particular - for our class. While we're gratified that they will make up the second largest national group within NYUAD this fall, we will be working hard to expand their presence in our student body in the years ahead."

One hurdle to attracting top Emirati students is the attraction of studying abroad, Mr Taylor said. But for Ahmed al Masaood, a 17-year old UAE national, part of the draw was the option of staying in the UAE. "First of all I get to stay back at home," he said. "Another reason is the diversity of the student body. It's just amazing." For him and many others, the deal was sealed during a candidates' weekend, which brought hundreds of students from all over the world to Abu Dhabi last autumn for a preview of university life. "The candidates' weekend was an amazing experience," he said.

The twin draws for Erin Meekhof, a 17-year old from the Washington DC suburbs, were funding and the opportunity to study abroad. "An international perspective was really important to me, so I was looking at colleges that had really good study-abroad programmes," she said. Another deciding factor was finance. "They actually gave me what amounts to a full ride for college, which is a better deal than I would have got anywhere else."

Tuition alone for a year at NYU Abu Dhabi is slighty more than US$40,000 (Dh146,800) a year. Laith Aqel, a Palestinian American, was attracted by the chance to study outside the US, along with the diversity of the student body. "To me it represents a whole new paradigm of education," he said. "The whole international experience is invaluable. I don't think there has ever been a more diverse group assembled whether you're looking at the faculty themselves or the students. It feels like the world is shrinking. NYUAD will prepare me to be a citizen of the world, not just my country."