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The Dartmouth
April 15, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

A 'Remarkable' Pool: Reflections on Record-Low ED Acceptance Rate

One writer talks with members of the Dartmouth community about the increase in early decision applicants at Dartmouth College.

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College admissions is a competitive, stressful and exciting process — but this year took that competition and excitement to new highs, with an extremely competitive early decision class on the heels of several major changes in long-standing admissions procedures. This December, Dartmouth announced a record-low 17% early decision acceptance rate, a significant drop from even ten years ago, when Dartmouth accepted 28% of ED applications. That year, for the class of 2018, Dartmouth had less than half the number of ED applications than they did this year for the class of 2028. This year’s low acceptance rate also occurred amid a major procedural change in college admissions: The Supreme Court’s decision to ban the use of race as a consideration in the admission process. 

So first, does this significant drop mean Dartmouth is actively becoming more selective? 

The quick answer is no, according to dean of admissions and financial aid Lee Coffin. 

“When your pool goes up, admit goes down,” he said. “It’s not because I’m trying to force it down.” 

Rather than an increase in selectivity, for Coffin, the record-high number of 3,550 ED applicants signals a growing interest in Dartmouth.

“A group of students did a search and said, ‘[Dartmouth] is where I see myself,’” he said. “As somebody representing the College, to see such significant increases in the number of students [applying] from around the world is exciting and feels great.” 

For Coffin, this most recent wave of applicants was exceptional. 

“I am always careful to not say one class is the best, but in this case, it was remarkable,” he said. “It was big, it was deep, it was wide and it was interesting.” 

Eliza Holmes ’24, a senior fellow in the admissions office, leads tours and information sessions for prospective students. She noted that interacting with these prospective students made her excited about the strength of the Class of 2028.

“There’s just so many strong applicants. People have done so many incredible things,” she said. “You’ll find a lot of the applicants are just these high achievers, crazy GPA, incredible test scores, and they do so much in their communities.”

If you are a Dartmouth ’28 reading this, pat yourself on the back. 

But why so many applicants? What has caused such a drastic increase? Coffin first pointed to an increase in the attractiveness of ED generally.

“I think the growth is part of a new general phenomenon among high achieving high school kids around the world who see early [decision] as the first step in the admissions process,” he said. 

For students like Addie Winship ’27, the prospect of ending the admissions process in December makes ED appealing.  

“When you’re applying to college and you find a place you really love, being admitted early really takes a lot of the stress from the process,” she said.

According to Winship, ED is also enticing to applying students because the ED acceptance rate is usually higher than the regular decision acceptance rate. Last year, the ED acceptance rate for the class of 2022 stood at 19%, while the RD acceptance rate was a mere 6%. However, Winship also recognized that with the increase in applicants and decrease in acceptance rate, the appeal of ED may change in the future.

“It makes you question ED because the promise of a higher chance of admissions now may not be the case — which feels like false advertising,” she said. 

In addition to the allure of ED, Coffin suggested the change may be a result of how the admissions team advertises Dartmouth to prospective students. 

“During my interview to come here, I asked the faculty ‘Who is Dartmouth’s closest competitor, what other school is like this?’ They couldn’t name one, neither could I, which is why I asked the question!” Coffin said. “That means this is something distinctive. We started shifting the narrative of the place to be celebratory around Hanover, the Upper Valley and about studying liberal arts in this community-based place.”

While a shift in narrative may have increased some students’ attraction to Dartmouth, Winship believed the appeal may still be more traditional. 

“It's hard because Dartmouth is so unique but it’s also an Ivy League,” she said. “I think because it’s still an elitist school it’s hard to change that narrative. Are people applying because they want to go to the woods or because it's an Ivy League and it will help you after college?”

Finally, Coffin stated that the third reason for the increase is due to the Admissions Office expanding their recruitment efforts by going to more high schools in different parts of the U.S. and internationally.   

“We started going all around the world in ways that we previously were not,” he said. 

Holmes also pointed out Dartmouth’s effort to be available for students to inquire. 

“We do a lot of special programming for certain high schools. I gave an information session in the fall to a group of juniors from the same high school,” she said. “There’s a lot of information available.” 

In addition to the high volume of applications, this ED admissions season was unique in other ways: This was Dartmouth’s first admissions cycle after the Supreme Court voted to reject race-conscious admissions programs. 

When I asked Coffin how the 2023 Supreme Court ruling that prohibits race consideration affected this year's ED class, he replied: “I don’t know because I can’t know.” He explained that the ruling does not allow the College to see the racial breakdown of a class until they finalize the entire class. 

“The court allows colleges to consider ‘life experience,’ as the phrase the Chief Justice used in the ruling. The application has no information anymore on people's racial identity, we don’t use it as a factor,” Coffin elaborated. “I will not know until June when the class is all done, and we will be able to get the census data on the class, but that will be a surprise.” 

Moving forward, there could be more new changes on the horizon in Dartmouth admissions. Coffin said he is pondering a change in how Dartmouth presents information on average standardized test scores. Despite the application process being test optional, 75% of the ED accepted applicants still submitted test scores this year, according to Crimson Education, but these scores can be impacted by one’s geographical location. 

“You have kids from rural schools, in which fewer of their classmates go to college, where they’re not taking test prep as much and that range is going to be different from a suburban school where the whole class goes to college,” he said.

Holmes emphasized how test scores fail to completely encapsulate an applicant. 

“In my own personal opinion, separate from admissions, is that test scores don’t bring a lot because they don’t give you a full representation of a person,” she said.  

In addition to a record number of applications, a record 74 students matched with Dartmouth in a partnership with QuestBridge National College Scholarship Match. This program matches accomplished students from low-income backgrounds to institutions like Dartmouth. Additionally, 22% of the early decision students are the first generation of their family to attend college, another record for Dartmouth and one at the forefront of Coffin’s mind. 

“I was first-gen, so it’s just something I care about. I know personally how college put me on a different path,” Coffin said. “I think a place like Dartmouth has a social opportunity that can make generational change.”

Even more so, for Coffin, the amount of applicants is a positive reflection on Dartmouth. 

“I think the story of the early decision at Dartmouth is an exciting example of the college’s strength. Growing and dynamic pools of high school students say that this is where they see themselves,” he said. “As the dean of admissions, it’s very exciting.”