Verbum Ultimum: A Revelatory Fluctuation
This past week, Dartmouth sent out its regular admission acceptance letters, officially extending invitations to the prospective Class of 2020. 2,176 prospective students were offered admission, and the 10.5 percent acceptance rate represents an increase from last year’s 10.3 percent acceptance rate. This leaves us with the seventh place in the Ivy League by acceptance rate, with Harvard University and Columbia University admitting almost half as many of their applicants and only Cornell University admitting a larger percentage of students. Historically, prestige has always been attached to acceptance rate. The lower the acceptance rate, the more selective your school is, and the more prestigious it is. U.S. News and World Report even prominently factors in selectivity, based on admissions percentage, when they put together their comprehensive and commonly referenced college rankings every year.
This increase in admissions percentage has some members of the Big Green faithful up in arms. They believe that Dartmouth is losing some of its prestige and may possibly slip from the upper echlon of American universities where it has comfortably resided for years. This only feeds into an existing belief held by many in the Dartmouth community that recent changes to the College, from the derecognition of certain Greek houses to the banning of hard alcohol, are chipping away at what makes Dartmouth special and desirable. There is a narrative that the old traditions are failing, and people are pointing to this decrease in selectivity as proof. They contend that people don’t want to come to this “new Dartmouth,” and that the only way to get back to where we were and compete with our Ivy League rivals is to restore Dartmouth’s former glory. While we are certainly not overjoyed by this change in admissions, we don’t believe it’s time to turn back the clock just yet.
First off, people are attaching far too much importance to this percentage. It is an increase of .2 percentage points, which could be attributed to anything from normal fluctuations to weather patterns during peak visiting weeks to just plain luck. This is an insignificant increase and shouldn’t be the cause of massive alarm. The fact of the matter is, this difference is far too small to support any sweeping statements about the changing nature of Dartmouth.
Some alarmists would still point to our admissions rate as compared to other Ivy League schools as a cause for major concern. While the shifts aren’t exactly massive, it is worth asking why schools like Harvard, the University of Pennslyvania and Columbia seem to be more selective than we are. Some of the reasons could be pretty simple: they have more name recognition in the U.S. and abroad which leads to more applicants, or maybe because they are located in much larger cities than Hanover. Many people will point to the negative press that Dartmouth has received recently, from the infamous Rolling Stone article to the recent coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests in November. The argument is that prospective students see this negative press and decide to take their Common Apps elsewhere. People can blame the media as much as they would like, but it isn’t exactly likely that shaking our fists at Fox News on one side and The Huffington Post on the other is really going to change anything. If we want to avoid the negative media attention that may be contributing to these admissions trends, we need to address the problems they are highlighting.
Over the past few years, Dartmouth has received significant media coverage for events like our Greek life and hazing allegations, the 2013 Dimensions protests and the Black Lives Matter protests, among many others. Instead of being frustrated with the media for how they portray us, perhaps we should focus more on the issues that caused the coverage in the first place. If extreme hazing wasn’t as big of an issue as it was (and arguably still is), the Rolling Stone problems wouldn’t have existed. If the issues that caused the Dimensions protests weren’t prevalent in Dartmouth, they wouldn’t have had to happen. If students of color felt like Dartmouth was a safe environment for them to learn, live and prosper, then there wouldn’t have had to have been protests that allowed pundits with a specific agenda to twist reality and cast a shadow on an important movement. While the increase in our acceptance rate isn’t a cause for alarm, it could be an opportunity to start a conversation about how Dartmouth isn’t where it needs to be. We are still attracting some of the best talent in the world, but if we really want to do better as far as admissions, then we are going to have to be better.
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