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2013 Winter Issue 4 (February 8, 2013)

Number of High School Applicants at All-Time High

February 12, 2013
By J.M. Hanley

For the second year in a row, applications to Carleton have increased dramatically.  An unprecedented seven thousand five high schoolers requested admission, twenty percent more than last year and forty percent more than two years ago.  

“We’re still trying to get our heads around the number,” said Paul Thiboutot, Carleton’s Dean of Admissions.
Thiboutot said that Carleton’s numbers represented “the largest increase” in applications among the college’s peer schools. According to the New York Times, Middlebury, Bowdoin, and Claremont McKenna saw single-digit percentage increases while applications to Hamilton, Williams, and Amherst, still reeling from an ugly sexual assault scandal, fell this year.

Thiboutot attributed the spike to “a whole variety of initiatives” which the Admissions department implemented two years ago.  Chief among them was Carleton’s decision to substantially shorten its Common Application supplement and require students to complete it before filling out the Common App – an inversion of the traditional sequence.

The supplement now asks students basic personal information and two short-response questions of less than 500 characters.

While students in the past had decided against applying to Carleton because they feared a lengthy supplement, Thiboutot explained, “Because students have to do it first and students go look it up, they see it’s short and can fill it out and then do the Common App.  It’s nothing.”*

Carleton’s recent partnership with Questbridge, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting low-income students gain admission to top colleges and universities, also contributed to the spike.  According to Thiboutot, Questbridge was responsible for more than half the increase in applications.

While applications from Midwestern states which historically have furnished much of Carleton’s freshman class went up substantially, the largest increases came in the south and the northwest, regions which are not traditional wellsprings of future Carls. 

The school saw a 30 percent increase in applications from California, a 25 percent increase in those from Illinois, and a 60 percent increase in those from Florida.

International applications also increased.  “The four largest states represented are Minnesota, California, Illinois, and China,” Thiboutot joked.

He forecasted an acceptance rate of twenty to twenty-three percent, a drop of at least two percent compared to last year’s.  Predicting an acceptance rate before reading the applications was hard, he emphasized, because admissions officers can only estimate a yield rate – the number of accepted candidates who will enroll – after they have had a chance to gauge applicants’ enthusiasm. 

Remarkable as it might be, the increase is unlikely to affect Carleton’s performance on other metrics such as US News and World Report’s “Best Colleges and Universities.”  In that publication, selectivity is only responsible for 1.5%  of a school’s placement.

Nevertheless, difficult decisions await Thiboutot and the rest of the admissions officers in the months to come. “This is a typical applicant pool,” Thiboutot said, “This is not a collection of inappropriate candidates.  It’s all complicated and it’s giving us a headache.”

*The author can confirm this, anecdotally.  Yesterday, a fellow freshman admitted to him that he decided to apply to Carleton at 11:50 pm on the night before the deadline after learning that it was the only application he which he could complete in the ten minutes he had left.

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