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UT alumni are helping their alma mater recruit some of the nation’s top students and achieve a top UT goal.

President J. Wade Gilley said the university recently began attracting more of the state’s best and brightest college candidates by inviting them to recruiting sessions in the homes of UT alumni.

Eight “Excellence Receptions” for students have been held since October, and more are planned for this spring, Gilley said.

Attracting more of the state-s top high school graduates is a major UT goal, and the alumni effort is helping the university meet that challenge, he said.

“We are concerned that the ‘brain drain’ of high school graduates who enroll at out-of-state institutions will have a lasting impact on Tennessee-s communities,” Gilley said.

“Our Volunteer Alumni Network always has helped recruit the state’s top high school students. This fall it has been an extremely active part of UT’s overall recruiting effort.

“As a result, more of these outstanding students are learning about the academic benefits and advantages of enrolling at UT.”

Gilley said alumni in Cincinnati also have hosted receptions for the most outstanding high school scholars in Ohio. These and other efforts are helping improve student academic quality at UT, he said.

UT’s fall freshman class’ average ACT score of 24 is the highest ever, and about a third graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

The number of National Merit Scholarship finalists increased 27 percent, African-American Achiever Scholars rose 11 percent, and students in the Freshman Honors Program went up 30 percent.

State Rep. Gene Caldwell, a UT alumnus and retired pediatrician in Clinton, said Anderson County’s top 15 high school students attended a recent reception at his home.

“We had a great turnout. These youngsters are considering UT, whereas in years past they had so many options they really did not look so close to home,” Caldwell said.

“But we were able to help get them excited about some of the programs at UT. I think it will help UT do better job recruiting the best students.”

UT Admissions Director Marshall Rose said benefits for top students at UT include financial aid from awards such as the African American Achievers, Bicentennial and Trustees scholarships and departmental awards.

Rose said UT recruiting also is being bolstered by a new Nov. 1 early application deadline implemented for the first time this fall.

The regular deadline is Jan. 15, but those who apply early are given priority in admissions decisions, he said.

Because of the early application date, UT already has admitted 3,800 students, and overall ACT scores of those pre-admitted applicants are higher than last year, he said.

“The better students tend to apply early,” Rose said. “From looking at the applicant pool we’ve gotten early, these are some of the highest quality applicants we have ever had.”

Students who still seek to apply for admissions at UT must do so by Jan. 15, he said.