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Donor Admissions: How It Works Now
(For students returning to campus, we are re-printing a few highlights from last term.)
The influence of money in the admissions process has been an aspect of Dartmouth that people have wondered about for a long time. The fact that special attention is given to the children of large donors is nothing new: undergrads can confirm that proposition just by looking at the last names of many of their classmates which appear on buildings and among the members of the Board of Trustees. However, it seems that as with many other areas of the College, this arguably necessary corruption has been extended significantly in the past few years. From a tiny share of each class — say about 1% — a decade or two ago, it now appears that 4%- 5% of incoming freshman are given special admissions consideration due to large gifts to Dartmouth by their parents. In fact, longtime head of Development Carrie Pelzel used to joke aloud that her job was much easier when alumni had kids coming into the college application phase of their lives.
In her book A Is for Admission: The Insider’s Guide to Getting into the Ivy League and Other Top Colleges (1997), Michele Hernandez ‘89 described the ongoing policy regarding major donors’ offspring in Admissions during her four years (1993-1997) as Assistant Director of Admissions at the College:
Hernandez was writing in 1997 about the period of time when Karl Furstenberg was Dean of Admissions (“King Karl” ran the show from 1992 to 2007). In a 2004 interview with The D, Furstenberg himself confirmed Hernandez’ insider revelations:
[Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenberg said] There are legacies, and then there are “development cases,” and the two are separate. Legacies receive that designation automatically from the admissions office if their parent holds a Dartmouth degree. Development cases, on the other hand, proceed differently.
When an important development case — usually involving a big donor — shows up, the alumni relations and development office inform the admissions office of an application that should receive special attention.
But Furstenberg said such cases are few and far between.
“There are typically 10 or fewer development cases each year. There is a fairly high standard to be treated as a development case. I mean you really have to donate a building or something. Schools with big endowments don’t really give much advantage because they have so much money.”
From 1%, the number of donor admits has soared in recent years. Today the cooperation between the Development Office and Admissions works as follows: Development creates a tracking list of applicants who come from families who are large contributors. Development officers then meet with Admissions staff to review Development’s list against Admissions’ application list, which includes the applicants’ high school record. Many admit decisions are made at this meeting. Sometimes discussions are easy because the applicant had good credentials; however when the applicant is weak, Development officers need to push the candidate. Most often these days Admissions officers accept their wishes; only very occasionally they do not. The bottom line is that the amount of money that a family gives to Dartmouth is a meaningful factor in the process, but not a 100% guarantee.
Currently about 20-25 names make the Development Office’s Admissions list for early admits, and later an equivalent number of candidates are also reviewed for regular admissions. Depending on the year, as many as 50 applicants are considered through this special process. Most, though not quite all, are admitted. Also, heavy alumni volunteer involvement is considered, but this work does not carry as much weight as the financial contributions of major donors. The first round of meetings are internal within the Development Office and Admissions staffers — then subsequent meetings are directly with Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Maria Laskaris ‘84.
Though I cannot confirm the exact timing of the rise from 1% to 4%-5% of incoming students in the acceptances of donor children, it seems likely that this change occurred when the Trustees and the Kim administration adjusted upward the number of legacy admits in the Class of 2014 by approximately one third. Since then legacies have remained at over 14% of each incoming Dartmouth class, as the Dartmouth Factbook notes:
Addendum: Though the longtime head of Development, Carrie Pelzel, has left her post to be replaced by Bob Lasher ‘88, nothing has changed recently. This policy is set by the President and the Board of Trustees.
August 14, 2013
Breaking: Of Crips and Bloods and Memories of Ghetto Parties
History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, or sometimes it just repeats itself. From the New York Times on November 30, 1998: At Dartmouth College, white students at a ”ghetto party” dressed…
June 25, 2013
Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson’s War on Students Part (2/2)
Part 1, Part 2 Today’s post again recounts the events that befell the Freshman. However, the content of the Hanover Police department report reproduced in this space yesterday is supplemented by information from my own…
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…
- The Dartmouth College Case
- 2007 Trustee Election
- Dartmouth Constitution
- Sunday Morning Sinatra
- The Indian Wars
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