Despite a drop in applications for several prestigious liberal arts colleges this year, Wesleyan’s Office of Admission saw a dramatic increase in applicants for the Class of 2013, jumping from 8,250 applicants last year to 10,068 this year. This marks a 22 percent increase in applications to the University.
As a result of the heavy interest that the University received this year, its acceptance rate dropped from 27 percent to 22 percent. The actual size of the admitted class, however, has remained relatively the same, with 2,201 students admitted to the Class of 2013.
There was also an increase in the number of Early Decision applicants, which rose from 650 students last year to 834 this year.
“It’s pretty rare, not only in our history, but if you look across the field of selective colleges…There are only two or three places around that have increases above 20 percent,” said Gregory Pyke, Senior Associate Dean of Admissions. “So it is a pretty strong statement of interest in Wesleyan, the regard for Wesleyan and Wesleyan’s high place in the pantheon of colleges out there.”
The composition of the class itself seems to mark an increase in diversity. According to Pyke, the number of students of color admitted this year marks the largest in his memory, if not in the history of the University. Excluding international students, the University admitted 237 African-Americans students, 233 Hispanic or Latino students, 290 Asian-American students and 21 American Indian or Alaska Native students.
“These numbers…are again a strong, positive statement about who sees and is interested in Wesleyan, and are strong enough to contribute and succeed here,” Pyke said.
While the number of admitted international students dropped from 7 percent to 6 percent since last year, Pyke noted that last year’s numbers marked a historical high for the University, making this year’s slight drop less striking.
The University has also received more interest from students in geographic locations that have seen less representation in past years. As in previous years, the majority of applicants came from areas in the Northeast; however, the number of applicants and admitted students from the South saw a significant increase for the Class of 2013.
“The South is a part of the country where we’ve been working for years to increase our visibility, get the Wesleyan name better known in Southern states,” Pyke said. “It’s a tough market for us, but we’ve made real progress there this year.”
For the past few years, the Office of Admission has also put considerable effort into stimulating interest in the University on the West Coast. Pyke noted that the increase in applicants from this area only confirms the efforts of Admissions staff to diversify its applicant pool.
The academic interests of students, too, appear to contribute to the diversity of the newly admitted class. This year, 85 percent of admitted students indicated an interest in the area of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM), an area which the Office of Admissions felt has been underutilized at Wesleyan in the past few years. In comparison, only 68 percent of students admitted last year to the Class of 2012 indicated an interest in this academic field.
This year, the University opted to become one of 26 schools participating in QuestBridge, a non-profit program which links motivated low-income students to some of the country’s top colleges and universities. Through this program, the Office of Admission admitted 16 students, who otherwise may not have considered Wesleyan during their college applications.
“We thought we might have gotten as many as eight, but ended up with sixteen, so we’re really pleased with our first year experience with QuestBridge,” Pyke said.
This was also the first year in which the Office of Admission provided prospective students the opportunity to view their admission decisions online. On Friday, March 27, students were able to view their admissions letter online up until Friday, April 3. Pyke said that over 5,000 people had checked their admissions status online.
Despite the economic downturn, the number of students applying for financial aid has remained relatively equal to last year. The University, in turn, has continued to admit students in need of financial aid at a rate similar to last year.
Such figures are quite impressive for Wesleyan, especially given the drop in applications that other prestigious liberal arts colleges experienced this year. A recent article in The New York Times noted a 20 percent drop in applications to Williams College, as well as a 12 percent drop in applications to Middlebury College. Amherst College saw a much smaller drop of 1 percent this year, but also revealed that it would increase its admissions rate slightly to 16 percent.
Pyke noted that President Obama’s commencement address at last year’s graduation ceremony probably has contributed to this spike in the number of applicants since it brought the University to the attention of those who may not have considered applying to Wesleyan otherwise. He noted, though, that there were likely other factors at work, as well.
“I think with any phenomena like this there are probably hundreds of reasons, rather than just one… There’s sort of a cumulative effect of doing things well over a number of years, just as we’ve been trying, for a long time, to increase our presence in the South and strengthen our reputation there,” he said. “I think this year’s experience is in some ways a product of years of work that the staff here [in the Office of Admission] have put in.”