Freshman applications to Northwestern for next fall reached 27,555, a 9 percent increase from last year — and a 70 percent increase over the last five years.

This rate of increase puts Northwestern in a leading position among peer institutions, the nation’s most selective private colleges and universities, said Mike Mills, associate provost for admissions at Northwestern.

“This sharp increase in applications over such a short time frame reflects the growing recognition of Northwestern as one of the nation’s very best universities,” Mr. Mills said. “Students realize that a degree from Northwestern provides a significant boost in landing a job or being admitted to an outstanding graduate program.”

The final total may increase slightly, as the Office of Undergraduate Admission still is processing applications received just before the deadline.

Applications from African-American and Latino/a students increased by double digits.

“These numbers reflect the increased efforts that we made this and last year in getting students of color to apply to Northwestern, so that’s very encouraging,” Mills said. “However, we know that the outstanding students we admit will have many choices on where to attend college, so we now are focusing our efforts on bringing these students to Northwestern.”

Early decision applications also increased sharply, rising by 11 percent from last year, to 1,776, which followed a 13 percent increase the previous year. The number of students admitted by early decision for next fall increased to 625 from 572 last year.

Christopher Watson, dean of undergraduate admission, cited the numerous prestigious honors that have been awarded to Northwestern’s undergraduate students as one of the reasons that the nation’s top high school students are applying to the University.

“With 32 Fulbright scholars for 2009-2010 and students also winning Rhodes, Churchill, Marshall and Mitchell scholarships, that sends a message about the quality of education offered here,” Mr. Watson said. “We are seeing an increasing number of the very best students applying to Northwestern.”

Mssrs. Mills and Watson also credited Northwestern’s increased commitment to providing financial assistance to students from low- and middle-income families. This year Northwestern hiked the amount of financial aid for undergraduate students by 10 percent to $86 million, while raising tuition by only 3.6 percent, the lowest increase in more than 40 years.

In addition to increasing financial aid, Northwestern, in the past few years, has instituted a no-loan program for undergraduates from such families and, in addition, has capped the amount of federal need-based loans at $20,000. For undergraduates receiving subsidized Stafford and Perkins loans, that means that all financial aid from Northwestern comes in the form of grants or scholarships once a student reaches $20,000 in loans.

As a result, Northwestern students graduate with very low loan debt. “For students receiving federal loans, the average loan debt at graduation is less than $16,000,” Mills said. “On a standard repayment schedule, that amounts to a payment of $180 a month or even lower for students who pursue careers in public service. That is one of the best deals in the country.”

Northwestern expects to enroll 2,025 freshmen this fall.