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The Dartmouth
April 18, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Amidon: Dartmouth Must Consider State Diversity in Admissions

State residency should be included as an admissions criterion to enhance the spectrum of perspectives on campus.

Throughout my first term and a half at Dartmouth, I have consistently felt different. I am not from a large metropolitan city or one of its suburbs. I am not from New England or the Bay Area. I do not come from a long history of wealth. I come from a university town in the South with a population of about 26,000 people. 

My experience growing up is not typical for Dartmouth students, and I try to share my perspective whenever possible because I understand the impact of exposure to different perspectives. But, no matter what, at the end of the day I still feel as if I am some sort of outsider coming from the strange land of Mississippi.

Mississippi is not a small state by any means, with our roughly three million residents, ranking 35th in state population. Three million is just under 1% of the U.S. population. Thus, a logical conclusion would be that just under 1% of the 1,003 matriculated, non-international Dartmouth ’27s would be from Mississippi, meaning nine for my class. I don’t believe that this is an unreasonable claim to make: Dartmouth’s domestic population should be fully representative of the U.S. for the greatest amount of intellectual diversity possible on campus.

However, this is not the case for Mississippi. I am the sole representative from Mississippi in the Class of 2027, alone tasked with representing my whole state. From 2018-22, Mississippi averaged three students across all classes enrolled at Dartmouth at any given time. In comparison, Maine, with its approximately 1.4 million residents — half as many as Mississippi — averaged four students per class year from 2018-22.

For complete transparency, I went to one of the best high schools in the state of Mississippi. We had a plethora of fully-funded extracurricular activities, teachers were paid competitive salaries and every single student had a personal laptop or iPad provided by the school. This is not a typical high school in Mississippi, a state that is poverty-stricken with communities that lack opportunities for upward mobility.

Therefore, I alone am not an accurate representation of what Mississippi looks like. We are missing out on key demographics that could truly shape our school as well as the wealth of different ideas and perspectives that many of us came here for. While Dartmouth claims to consider geographic diversity in admissions decisions, this is not as clear as one might expect.

According to Dartmouth’s Common Data Set — information published by the College to increase transparency around admissions — geographical residence, as it is utilized for admissions, is defined as “special consideration in the admission process given to students from a particular region, state or country of residence.” However, the College also concedes within the same document that “State Residency” is not a factor considered for admission.

This means that the College is only examining a student’s country of residence or region within the U.S. These regions are defined in the Class Profile for the Class of 2027 as New England, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-West, South, West and International. 

When considered in major buckets such as just “South,” much of the geographic diversity that exists within the region is lost. A student residing in one of the poorest areas in the country — such as the Mississippi Delta — should not be considered to have the same geographic background as an individual from the Atlanta or Miami suburbs. These areas are much more wealthy, urban and liberal; not representative of the south as a whole, much of which is poor, rural and conservative. As a College, we are limiting the diversity of backgrounds by not acknowledging the true complexity of the geographic differences that shape applicant experiences.

This is why I call for the College to change its admissions policy to consider state residency — there should be no reason that states such as Mississippi are disproportionately underrepresented at such an elite institution. There would still be the risk that admitted students from rural states would be concentrated in preparatory and rich public schools, yet this would be a step in the right direction. Additionally, this risk can be mitigated through increased outreach to rural students, sharing with them that Dartmouth is a place where they would be welcomed. Often, all a prospective student needs to hear is that they are qualified for admission, and outreach programs do just that.

Policy changes, such as the one I propose, are extremely important more than ever now in a post-affirmative action world, as colleges across the country seek to ensure the diversity of their classes without reliance on race-based metrics. More proportionate representation of states would help the College build diverse classes in a way that has yet to happen in history. This argument should and can be extended to international students. A student from somewhere like rural Nigeria grows up with a different background and brings a different perspective than one from just outside Paris.

If Dartmouth wishes to foster the diverse community it claims to have, the Admissions Office must commit to increasing the geographical diversity of students across the U.S. and place a greater focus on admits from the rural south.

Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.