Class of 2021 has record-high number of students

Alex Fredman

May 11, 2017

For the Class of 2021, 61 percent of admitted students have decided to attend Dartmouth, the highest yield rate in 25 years according to the College. Dartmouth’s yield rate has typically hovered around 50 percent, with a 53.1 percent yield rate for the Class of 2020.

Because of this high yield, the Class of 2021, which as of last week has 1,279 students, is on track to be the largest class in Dartmouth history. Twelve percent of the class consists of international students, up about 4 percent from last year. The class also has a larger proportion of students eligible for federal Pell grants, with 14 percent of students eligible as opposed to 11 percent last year.

Of the Class of 2021, 555 (43.4 percent) students were accepted through the early decision process. Last year, 494 students (42.7 percent) of the Class of 2020 were accepted early decision.

The higher-than-average yield was unexpected but may not be a one-year anomaly, said Lee Coffin, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid.

Founder of college admissions consulting firm Ivy Coach Bev Taylor said that college admissions rates can often be manipulated, as colleges will often try to artificially lower their acceptance rates in order to appear more selective by encouraging more students to apply. Yet at the same time, these schools will try to increase their yield rate by wait-listing students who they feel are completely qualified but did not seem as interested in their schools in the application.

But Taylor said that it is not apparent that Dartmouth did any of this for the Class of 2021, especially since Dartmouth’s acceptance rate this year (10.4 percent) was almost identical to last year’s 10.5 percent. Coffin noted that although in the past the College’s acceptance policy has been to accept one wait-listed student for every student who chooses to take a gap year, he decided this year to accept more students up front and let the class size narrow down.

Coffin, who came to Dartmouth last July from Tufts University, said that the yield statistic is important from an admissions perspective, as it is used to calculate the number of applications the College will accept in future years. Coffin added that he believes a number of factors contributed to the yield increase, including changes to the admission office’s structure and the application process.

One of those changes, Coffin said, involved adopting a “territorial system” for the admissions office. He said that this year, admissions officers were assigned certain geographic regions to travel to during the fall and then read applications from those regions in the spring. Coffin said that this fostered a better sense of understanding among the admissions staff toward the students they were selecting.

In addition to this structural change, Coffin said that the College modified the Dartmouth supplement to the Common Application, adding a 100-word “Why Dartmouth?” question for the first time, which he believes gave the admissions staff a much better sense of which students truly wanted to attend Dartmouth.

“That question produced really powerful answers where students would point to either parts of the curriculum or a faculty member, and give a really interesting insight into what we do at Dartmouth and what they hope to do in college,” Coffin said.

Taylor said that she believes this essay was a key factor in Dartmouth’s yield rate. In past years, Taylor said, the essays Dartmouth used for the Common App supplement were comparable to those of other highly selective schools. As a result, students who may not have been as interested in Dartmouth could have easily completed the application just for the sake of adding another school to their list, because they could have copied essays they used for different schools.

“Because of these [new] questions, Dartmouth really got an inside look at who is going to come if we take them,” Taylor said.

She added that the smaller word limit made this essay more difficult, therefore requiring students to make every word count. As a result, the best essays were likely to be written by the students who most wanted to attend.

Yet, Coffin said that these changes in the admissions process were not the only factors in the yield increase. He also said that the two Dimensions of Dartmouth weekends, which offer on-campus programs for accepted students before the decision deadline, were highly successful this year.

“We knew after that first Dimensions that there was some energy moving through that we hadn’t anticipated,” Coffin said.

In fact, around 70 percent of students accepted regular decision who attended Dimensions chose Dartmouth, a number that is also significantly higher compared to years past. Coffin said he believes this increase was due in part to a change in Dimensions programming this year that brought a greater spotlight on Dartmouth’s teaching quality.

“We wanted to make the faculty piece be the leading conversation as this pool of students with pretty powerful options took a look at us one more time,” he said.

Taylor also noted that, from what she heard from students she works with, Dimensions was very influential for prospective students this year. She added that offering Dimensions for two weekends instead of three, which has been the case for only the last couple of years, allows prospective students to meet more of their potential classmates, making them more likely to choose Dartmouth.

The arrival of a larger-than-usual incoming class of freshmen comes after a year in which the College has struggled with housing shortages, especially in the wake of the fire last fall in Morton Hall, which displaced dozens of students. Associate dean of residential life and director of residential education Michael Wooten wrote in an email statement that the College expects to be able to fully accommodate the incoming class.

“Beds are tight in our system, and any increase in enrollment has impact,” Wooten wrote. “However, we remain committed to providing the best possible program within our housing portfolio.”

Coffin said that conversations have begun among administration officials on how to accommodate the increase in students, and that these considerations are a work in progress. He did note, however, that the active class size is likely to shrink, partly because he believes many students will decide to take gap years and some international students may choose to attend a school in their home country.

Taylor said that the higher yield rate indicates that more students really want to attend the College.

“This is an extraordinary deal, especially when most highly selective schools anticipate about 50 percent of students in the regular decision round who will matriculate,” Taylor said.