This year’s freshman class may be slow to learn the rules of the bike path and how to share the sidewalk with skateboarders, but they have jumped into UCSB’s extracurricular scene with unusual enthusiasm this school year.

Carolyn Buford, Office of Student Life associate dean of students, said there has been a greater response from freshmen this year to extracurricular organizations and fraternities compared to previous years. Both on-campus and off-campus student organizations cite UCSB’s increasing academic reputation, higher incoming freshman academic performance compared to last year and advertising of organization as the reason for the increase in freshman involvement.

“The turnout has been simply overwhelming,” Buford said.

Organizations such as the OSL Leadership Exchange and Access Program, which pairs students with faculty members as mentors, has seen unprecedented levels of interest, Britt Andreatta, OSL director of first year programs and leadership education, said.

“Last year we had about 50 people express interest in the program, while this year we’ve had about 170,” she said. “Usually the interest is pretty balanced across the class levels, but this time around it’s been a majority of freshmen.”

According to the UCSB 2003-04 Freshman Profile, this year’s freshman class may be the largest to ever enroll at UCSB. Out of the 18,788 applicants who were admitted, 4,283 signed a statement of intent to register, an increase from the previous year’s 4,100. UCSB received 3,000 more applications this year than in the past two years. The academic performance of this year’s freshmen is higher than last year’s, with a mean SAT score of 1186, compared to last year’s 1172, and a mean high school GPA of 3.72 compared to last year’s 3.71. Andreatta said the incoming freshman class’s higher academic performance accounted for part of the increase in freshman involvement in extracurricular programs.

“As our school recruits better students, we are starting to get the cream of the crop in terms of high-school achievers,” she said.

Kaplan/Newsweek magazine named UCSB as one of the nation’s 12 “hot colleges” in 2003. Some organization leaders said the transition of UCSB’s reputation from a party school to having a more academically oriented reputation attracted more interest from freshmen this year.

“I think our school is losing its party reputation and starting to attract some real achievers,” said James Seidel, senior computer engineering major and vice president of the Student Entrepreneurs Association. “We’ve seen a significant increase in freshman involvement this year, both in terms of showing up to meetings and trying to get involved any way they can.”

Some organizations also tried to recruit new members by advertising to incoming freshmen before school started.

“The Interfraternity Council sent every [male] freshman a brochure about frats before they came this year, describing things like our anti-hazing policies and the benefits of joining,” Interfraternity Council Media Chair and junior biology major Andral Hagos said. “The idea is to get them before they come here. We’ve never done this before.”

Hagos said the advertising paid off, and the number of male freshmen rushing fraternities increased by 40 percent this quarter compared to fall quarter last year.

KCSB, the university’s student radio station, has also experienced more freshman involvement. The station’s AM affiliate, KJUC, had roughly a 100 percent increase in freshman interest this year.

“Usually we have about 50 freshmen sign up for radio training, while this year we’ve already had over 100,” KJUC manager Denise Benetz said. “It’s a welcome change to see so much eagerness.”