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BREAKING: Early Decision Applications, Admits Up. Lee Coffin Miracle Worker?

While Dartmouth released its early decision acceptances to applicants last Thursday, for some reason the College only made its overall results public yesterday. Applications jumped from 1,999 to a record 2,270, a 13.6% increase — the second-best result among the Ivies thus far reporting (Cornell has not made any results public — we even phoned). Far from lagging behind its peers as in recent years, Dartmouth seems to be zooming ahead under new Dean of Admissions Lee Coffin:

ED Volume.png

Only Penn, which is red hot right now with a soaring endowment and record-breaking yield, not to mention an alumnus in the Oval Office, turned in a better performance. (Note to Phil: See Penn before referring to Dartmouth as “hot.”) Look at how well Penn does against everyone but HYP in the number of ED applications it receives for each slot in its freshman class:

ED Applicants Per Slot.jpg

Meanwhile, the march toward accepting more and more of the College’s freshman class via Early Decision continues. With a record-breaking applicant pool, Dartmouth also took the most students ever early.

Early Decision Admits 2006-2022.jpg

The College’s selectivity improved from 27.8% to 24.9%, but we still let in far more ED applicants as a percentage than any other Ivy:

ED Acceptance Rate.jpg

As noted by the Washington Post and this space, the use of early decision to fill the freshman class is on the rise across the board. However, we noticed something curious in the College’s press release:

Early enrollees will make up approximately 47% of next year’s entering class. Last year, 17 early decision students took a gap year, and admissions this year factored that increasing trend into their enrollment projection, Coffin says. [Emphasis added]

If we take the College at its word, and the number of net deferrals (that is, those who will defer from this year to next year minus those who deferred from last year to this year) is approximately zero, that would suggest that the Class of 2022 could have as many as 1202 students. (In reality, it should be slightly smaller since early decision yield is not 100%; it’s closer to somewhere between 96-98%.) Either way, the data point to the incoming class once again being very large.

Phil’s planned expansion may already be happening by stealth, especially given that the Class of 2021 is already by far the largest Dartmouth class ever at 1215 students:

Undergraduate Class Size.jpg

With Dartmouth’s infrastructure bursting at the seams, where does this leave us? Last year, the College reported an decrease in the overall number of applicants despite an increase in the size of the early decision pool. This year’s spike in early decision applicants is larger, but it remains to be seen where that leaves the regular decision pool.

With an early decision deadline of November 1, the PBS investigation emerged too late for it to significantly affect those choosing to apply early, but it’s been hanging over the College for several months now. Moreover, perhaps the College’s decision last year to markedly increase the number of early acceptance slots caused clever applicants to shift their applications from the regular to the early pool in the hopes of maximizing their chances. We just don’t know.

On its face, given these early results, it seems that Lee Coffin is doing quite a job in McNutt. Of course, we’ll need to wait until April to get the whole story.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

It should also be noted that Harvard, Yale and Princeton are all Single Choice Early Action as opposed to binding Early Decision. I think that inflates the number of applicants to those schools, which makes Penn’s statistics even more remarkable.

And has a second comment:

I agree with your assessment that the College has been surreptitiously increasing the size of the undergraduate population for a number of years. Back in the 70’s, I think the class size was limited to 1050. They now seem to be reaching for 1200 per class. It’s unclear to me what the starting point is for Phil’s expansion plans—4200 or 4800?

If the College was smart, it would reduce the size of the incoming class back to 1050, thereby increasing the selectivity of the RD pool, reducing the overall acceptance rate and increasing the yield (while simultaneously improving the student experience). Penn has been playing that game for years (accepting more than 50% of the class in ED) and it’s worked phenomenally well for them. Success breeds success in the admissions game.

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