The College of William and Mary Office of Admissions saw a dramatic increase in early decision applications this year, causing administrators to examine the role of early decision at the College.
“Right now the pool stands at 1,094,” Dean of Admissions Henry Broaddus said in an e-mail. “This may shift slightly based on late-completing applications and students who change their minds and ask to be shifted into the regular decision pool.”
The number marks a significant increase from last year, when 951 students applied for early admission.
“Right now we are up 13 percent,” Associate Provost for Enrollment Earl Granger said at Thursday’s Board of Visitors meeting. “We are really excited about that.”
Other four-year institutions reporting an increase in applications for the class of 2014 included Duke University, which saw a 32 percent increase, and Dartmouth College, which saw a three percent increase. Tufts University and Georgetown University saw no significant change, while Davidson College, which uses two rounds of early admissions, had a four percent decrease in the number of applicants.
“When you look at our 10-year history, [our pool of early decision applicants is] a record,” Granger said. “Typically what ends up happening is early decision, at least in the freshman class, represents about 36 percent of the freshman class.”
Granger noted that the College’s enrollment levels for the past few years have paralleled national trends.
“Enrollment has been pretty steady,” Granger said. “We have actually had some slight bumps, which is more reflective of the growing size of the freshman class. Four-year institutions, for the most part, have been pretty steady as it relates to enrollment.”
Changes in other universities have also affected the College’s applicant pool in recent years.
“Two years ago, [the University of Virginia] did away with early decision, and so clearly we have a number of students in our applicant pool who are what I call ‘phantom app-ers,’” Granger said, referring to those applicants who would have otherwise applied to U.Va., and will still go to the institution pending acceptance, but in the meantime apply to the College for lack of alternatives.
Granger also said that the College’s student population is growing more and more diverse with every passing year.
“[International students are] one of the populations that has increased over the past three or four years, and we definitely want to continue doing that,” Granger said. “Up until this point, we very much have engaged in arm-chair recruitment — that is, sitting in our office, hoping that they’ll come — but that will change.”
There has also been growth in regard to the number of Hispanic students.
“This is one of the fastest growing populations, relative to students coming through the pipeline, finishing high school, looking at four year opportunities,” Granger said.
Granger also noted that, over the past few years, there has been an increasing number of students who have chosen to not report their racial or ethnic backgrounds.
“Back [in] 2005, it’s 8 percent of the class, and … as of last year it’s 23 percent, and this year it’s 21 percent,” he said. “Moving forward, I think it’s going to be really interesting, how we even look at how we report underrepresented populations for students and people of color.”
Challenges remain despite growth in the number of applications. Granger said more competitive financial aid packages have been a factor.
“While we have experienced applicant increases across the university, this does not always equate to increased enrollment to some of our programs, even if that is, in fact, our intent,” Granger said.
Another issue is maintaining the ratio of male to female students.
“Ideally, we want to end up somewhere [near] 55 percent females,” Granger said. “Sometimes it ends up being around 58 percent. We want to be respectful of the applicant pool, but also manage to make sure we can ensure our own goals in terms of what kinds of experience we want our students to have here.”
Applications from legacy students, students whose parents or grandparents also attended the College, have been low when compared to other universities, according to Granger.
“[In] the freshman class, [it] is 7 percent, and the [early decision] pool is actually 6 or 7 percent,” Granger said. “We’ve been pretty consistent. When the overall pool is in place, legacy children tend to only represent 2 to 3 percent on average.”
Introduced last year, the Legacy Program invites families of alumni to visit campus during Homecoming weekend and participate in special programs held just for them. Granger said the intention was to foster life-long connections with the College.
“For the first time, we have really begun to think about this strategically along a continuum, meaning from prospective to alumni,” Granger said, “I think we really are trying to be strategic about how we approach it, really looking at it from a student experience.”