Applications decline by three percent from last year

Colby Ye And Zan Song

January 10, 2013

Around 22,400 students applied for admission to the Class of 2017, marking an approximately 3 percent decrease from last year’s pool, according to Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Maria Laskaris. Despite the drop, this year marks the second highest number of applications the College has received, Laskaris said.

The College aims to admit approximately 2,150 students, of which roughly 1,100 to 1,200 are expected to accept offers of admission, Laskaris said. The 464 students admitted from the early decision pool, which saw a 12.5 percent decrease from last year’s early applications, will constitute about 40 percent of the overall incoming class.

“There is always some variation and fluctuation in numbers from year to year, but I think the bottom line is we will be admitting about 10 percent of the students who are applying this year,” Laskaris said.

Laskaris declined to speculate why fewer students applied early decision to Dartmouth this year.

Early decision is a small component of the College’s overall application volume, Laskaris said. About 200 fewer students applied early decision to Dartmouth this year compared to last year, which is less significant when compared to the total pool of over 22,000 applications received.

“It will be another competitive and selective year for Dartmouth, so I’m confident that we’ll have a strong and talented incoming class,” Laskaris said.

Jeffrey Durso-Finley, the director of college counseling at the Lawrenceville School in Princeton, N.J., believes that the significant decline in the College’s early decision applications cannot be attributed to a decline in interest in the College but rather in early decision programs more broadly.

At the Lawrenceville School, there have been around 50 applicants to Dartmouth annually over the last few years, according to Durso-Finley. He said he has observed a shift away from early decision applications in general, while non-restrictive early action programs, in which students are not committed to attending the school if accepted, have increased sharply in popularity recently. The only early decision schools that have not seen a decrease in their applicant pools are schools that either provide a “significant selectivity discount” for those who apply during the early round or have specific programs that draw a narrow applicant pool, he said.

Examples of schools with “selectivity discounts” are Duke University and Vanderbilt University, where admissions counselors advertise that applicants are advantaged by applying early decision. Schools with specialty programs include the University of Pennsylvania, with Wharton Business School, and Cornell University, with its school of engineering, he said.

Durso-Finley said he does not believe that Dartmouth’s early decision program provides students with greater chances of admission if they apply early.

“Psychologically, applying to a binding program to a school that offers the exact same chance early and regular simply does not make sense anymore,” he said.

Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, Ill., saw a decrease in the number of applicants to Dartmouth this year, according to the guidance counselor Norma Chin. For the Class of 2016, 23 students applied overall, while only 12 applied for the Class of 2017. Only one student applied early decision this year, while none applied last year.

Sean Logan, college counseling director at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., said that its number of applicants to Dartmouth has not changed since 2008.

None of the high school counselors interviewed by The Dartmouth attributed the recent decline in numbers to the negative publicity — ranging from allegations of hazing to the investigation of the College’s Board of Trustees for embezzling funds — surrounding Dartmouth in the past year.
Negative press coverage does not usually alter application numbers at elite colleges in the subsequent year significantly, according to Durso-Finley. He said that many students are unaware of the events, and often larger numbers even apply on the assumption that it will be easier to be accepted because the applicant pools will be smaller.

Bev Taylor, the director of Ivy Coach, a leading private college counseling firm based in New York City, said she believes that students may be more comfortable applying to non-binding early action schools such as Yale University or Harvard University. However, Taylor said that this does not explain why schools such as Cornell and Columbia University experienced 14 and 1.3 percent increases in early decision applications this year.

Over 30 percent of Taylor’s students are international, and over 50 percent of them are Asian-American. From Taylor’s experiences with her students, she said she believes that Dartmouth is simply not on the radar for these minority groups.

“It’s a shame, because these are the students that Dartmouth really wants,” Taylor said.

For these minority students, an important factor when considering colleges is the existing minority population at a school, she said. Approximately 17 percent of the Class of 2016 self-reported as Asian-American and 10 percent were international students, according to the Class of 2016 profile released by the Admissions Office.

Around 36 percent of the Class of 2016 self-identified as part of a minority group.

“Dartmouth simply hasn’t reached the ‘tipping point’ in minority population,” Taylor said.

Dartmouth has not been able to convince accepted minority applicants to matriculate to the College, according to Taylor. As a result, future minority students are unlikely to consider Dartmouth as a serious option. Taylor believes that improving public relations strategy is the key for Dartmouth to attract more minority students. “Dartmouth really doesn’t have enough good PR,” Taylor said.

She said that Dartmouth has many programs such as the Tuck Business Bridge Program, the undergraduate courses offered at the Tuck School of Business and the corporate recruiting programs that may attract minority students. The College’s admissions officers should better advertise such programs, she said.

While Taylor does not believe that the recent negative publicity about the College’s Greek system has garnered much attention from her students, she said that any prospective applicant who researches Dartmouth’s social life will be presented with the image of a historical “party school.”

“That’s not an image that’s going to attract minority parents,” Taylor said.

Laskaris said that the College plans to continue previous initiatives, such as alumni-sponsored events and Dimensions of Dartmouth, which is designed to encourage regular decision students to accept Dartmouth’s offer of admission. The College also plans to implement a new initiative to highlight undergraduate research at Dartmouth, she said.

For admitted students who cannot attend Dimensions or for parents who want to stay involved in the process, the College plans to continue web-based initiatives to engage admitted students.

The College will use social media to expand its presence both domestically and internationally, Laskaris said. In addition to visiting schools and communities that are already familiar with Dartmouth, admissions representatives are reaching out to new schools and communities to expand awareness.

Likely letters will be mailed out from late January to early March to a small constituent of applicants, according to Laskaris. Admissions decisions will be available online beginning at 5 p.m. on March 28, she said.

The average composite SAT score of the applicant pool for the Class of 2017 is 2081, one point higher than last year’s composite of 2080, according to Laskaris.

Figures are not yet available for the demographics of the applicant pool or the number of students applying for financial aid.
Other Ivy League institutions have not yet released overall admissions numbers.