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Too Smart to Get Into Dartmouth

Lee Coffin1.jpgThe measure of a college’s selectivity (we are seventh in the Ivies) is a false one — not because it doesn’t tell you how tough it is to get into a school, but because the number is an incomplete statistic. When the College announced a few weeks ago that 20,034 students had applied for admission, and 2,092 were accepted, giving us a selectivity percentage of 10.4%, the implication is that we have filled the freshman class. Wrong.

By this logic, I could fill the entire class and have a yield of .00005%. All I would have to do is accept one Early Decision student, and then fill the rest of the class off of the waitlist — an action that takes place only after the selectivity numbers have been reported. Look at the increase in the number of students Dartmouth accepted off of the waitlist over the the past fourteen years (these figures come from the Common Data Set that the College submits to the Department of Education). In a freshman class of about 1,100 students, we are obviously not even trying to fill the class via Early Decision (soaring both in absolute terms and as a % of the incoming class) and the Regular Decision round because we can fall back on the waitlist. However, as our total applications and popularity decline, we are having to turn to the waitlist more and more:

Waitlist 2003-2016.jpg

By 2015 things were out of hand. At that point, we already led the Ivies in waitlist use, but in Maria Laskaris’ last full year as Dean of Admissions, almost 12% of the class came off the waitlist. So what did the Trustees do? I know that you want me to say that they cut costs, raised professors’ salaries, renovated dorms, and did whatever they could to enhance student contact with our devoted faculty. But, no. That would be too obvious. Instead the administration brought in from Tufts a new Dean of Admissions, Lee Coffin (pictured above with a Tufts sophomore).

Tufts has been so good at managing its yield that it has given its name to the strategy:

Tufts Syndrome.jpg

The goal is to limit offers of admission to people most likely to accept in order to keep a school’s all-important-to-U.S.-News yield figure at an appropriate level. Dartmouth has already been trying to do so by ramping up our early decision acceptances and also the acceptances of legacies, two target-rich environments. Both cohorts are likely to come to Hanover. But what about the smartest kids, the ones who might be attractive to HYP? In the future, we’ll leave them alone.

Not that we are breaking any ground here. Other schools are already on the bandwagon: I watched the daughter of my neighbor in Paris get accepted to Stanford, Harvard (in February, no less) and Penn, and then get refused to Chicago. Come again? That’s right. Chicago understood that such a fine candidate would never come to the Windy City, so why waste an acceptance on her.

We can look for more of the same in the coming years in Hanover. And it will get worse, until we have a Board and a President who understand what the market is saying: Dartmouth should turn itself around. Cosmetic changes and clever admissions strategies aren’t what we need.

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