The economic downturn has changed the college and university admissions landscape. Small, private institutions across the nation have seen a drop in applicants as prospective students balk at hefty tuition prices. 

Williams College has seen one of the most dramatic decreases in its applications this year. According to Richard Nesbitt, the Director of Admissions, the number of applications to the college dropped by 20 percent to 6017 this year. Nesbitt attributes the decrease in part to the economy, but said that the dramatic fall was inflated by last year’s unusual 7552 applications, which he says was a statistical fluke. Nesbitt says he does not think the decrease in applications is necessarily a bad thing.

“As long as the quality is there, I have no problem having fewer applications,” he said. “I think most colleges try to have fewer applications as long as they keep the quality.”

Jamie Brewster, the Assistant Director of Admissions at Colby College, where the number of applicants has also declined, said that this situation is similar at other institutions.

“We had about 4500 applications—slightly down,” Brewster said. “Last year the apps were a little over 4800. I think a lot of schools were slightly down this year.”

Trinity received 5136 applications this year, which is 13.6 percent less than last year. Middlebury saw an 11.7 percent decline, receiving 6904 applications this year. Amherst and Bowdoin each saw a one percent decrease in applications compared to last year.

In a sharp contrast, Wesleyan saw a substantial increase in applications for the class of 2013. A record 10,068 candidates applied to the University this year—up 22 percent from last year. This sharp increase has corresponded to a decline in the University’s admissions rate, dropping from 27 percent to 22 percent, boosting the University’s selectivity. In contrast, peer institutions have seen increases in admissions rates.

Trinity’s admissions rate climbed to 41.7 percent from 34.2 percent last year. According to Eliza Mathew, the Assistant Director of Admissions at Trinity, fewer students are being admitted because the college does not want to risk over-committing its resources, which are especially limited this year.

“Financially, we can’t afford to over-enroll so we’re playing it safe,” Mathew said. “We’d rather go to our waitlist than over-enroll.”

Middlebury’s admissions rate rose from 18.3 percent last year to 22.2 percent this year. Colby admitted 33 percent of its applicants compared to 30 percent last year. Bowdoin’s admissions rate rose slightly from 18.4 percent to 18.6 percent, and Amherst’s admissions rate climbed 0.8 percent this year to 15.8 percent.

Conversely, Ivy League institutions have seen big boosts in their application numbers. According to an article in The New York Times, Harvard received a record 29,112 applications this year, which is a 6 percent increase from 2008. Dartmouth also received a record-breaking number of applications and Stanford saw a 20 percent increase. Brown, Yale, and Columbia each saw double digit percent increases, and Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania both saw slight increases.

As a result of the drop in applicants to the most selective small, private, liberal arts institutions, it was relatively easier for this year’s students to get admitted to those colleges. This decline has also affected admission offices, which were able to devote more time and consideration to each candidate.

“It was so much more sane this year,” Nesbitt said. “Things ran so much smoother because of that and we were able to do the most thorough job for reading and choosing applications.”

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