The total number of applicants to the Class of 2018 is at 6,250, which is an 11 percent decrease from last year, according to Dean of Admissions Paul Thiboutot. Although this is the second highest number of applicants in the history of the college, it comes as a surprise after the 20 percent increase in applicants from the Class of 2016 to the Class of 2017.
“Through informal conversations with colleges, one pattern among the top 12 highly selective liberal arts colleges is that we are experiencing a decline in applicants in the range of five to 10 percent,” Thiboutot said.
But while some colleges experienced a decline in applicants this year, not all U.S. colleges did.
Because the regular decision application deadline was only a month ago, Thiboutot said that it is too early to know why this decrease occurred. However, he hypothesized that this year’s overhaul of the Common App resulted in technical glitches that may have prevented students from applying to as many schools as they have applied to in the past.
It will be years before Carleton can determine whether the decrease in applicants from this year will have an effect on the size of future applicant pools.
There is hope, yet. Despite the decrease in applicants from last year, Carleton has experienced growing popularity in recent years. Between the Class of 2010 and the Class of 2017, applications increased 58 percent from 4,461 to 7,045 applicants.
This phenomenon is happening countrywide, said Thiboutot. “Over the past decade, applications to highly selective colleges have increased,” Thiboutot said. “In fact, there has probably been an increase in applications to colleges across the board because it has become easier to apply to college.”
The Carleton Admissions office has been tailoring their advertisement technique to accommodate this influx of interest. Thiboutot said that some of the reasons that applications to Carleton have increased are improvements to the college and admissions efforts, such as a significantly increased web presence.
One reason for the jump in applicants from the Class of 2016 to the Class of 2017 is Carleton’s membership to QuestBridge, an organization that helps low-income students apply to highly selective colleges. Carleton’s QuestBridge membership brought in applicants that it would not have received otherwise.
Thiboutot made it clear that changes to Carleton’s ranking position on various news outlets’ lists of top national liberal arts colleges has not changed applicant numbers.
“Higher ranking numbers do not necessarily mean more applications,” he said. “For instance, we know that the relative change in position within four or five points doesn’t affect much immediately, but it might affect applicant pool size over 10 years.”
Rankings affect the quality of applicants more than the size of the applicant pool. “Simply put, being lower on a ranking list just does not attract top candidates,” Thiboutot said.
Regardless of the application number, now that the regular decision deadline has passed, the Admissions Office is sorting through the applications in order to decide who will be in the Class of 2018.