By Tom Ballard
There is one thing that every student at the College has in common. Regardless of their geographical background, economic status or academic record, they were all, through some process, accepted to be a student at the College.
Behind the brick walls and white colonial columns of Paul Loser Hall, the College’s Office of Admissions recently worked to send out all general admissions letters to prospective students by its Friday, April 1, deadline.
The College’s nine admission counselors took on the task of reviewing the 11,818 applications the College received — a record number, according to Associate Director of Admissions Matt Middleton.
“We review applications by major, so every counselor gets assigned a variety of majors and we basically pull those applications once they’re ready to be reviewed, and pretty much from November to March, all we do is read the applications at our desks,” Middleton said.
According to Middleton, each counselor has approximately 1,200 to 1,500 applications to review from November to March. Counselors overlook applications from the early decision period — a decision option that allows prospective students to apply and receive a decision earlier with the agreement that they would be binded to attend the College if accepted — and the general admission period.
Middleton said that after a counselor reviews an application, they make a preliminary decision for admission and defend their decision to Director of Admissions Grecia Montero, who has the final say on whether or not a student is admitted.
While reviewing the information, counselors take into account six main numeric and non-numeric factors, Middleton said. Those factors include the student’s transcript, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, leadership, community service and letters of recommendation.
“(An applicant’s transcript) is always the most important factor… I know when I open an application, one of the first things that I do is look at their senior year course load to see how they challenged themselves or if they decided to take it easy their senior year,” Middleton said. “That leaves a big impression on me right off the bat.”
Middleton said that the Office of Admissions keeps track of students that visit the College for tours, as well as students who meet with admissions counselors while they are out visiting local high schools, in order to see how interested an applicant is in attending the College.
“We take a lot of notes in our system on people we’ve had conversations with, either at their high schools or when they visit the campus, so a student that is trying to make that extra effort, especially since we don’t do interviews as part of the process, a student doing that can enhance their chances,” Middleton said. “If they advocate for themselves, we might end up advocating for them, too.”
With the amount of applications that are submitted to the College, Middleton said that it is hard to determine how long a counselor spends reviewing each application, but estimated that it’s usually no longer than a few minutes.
“There are some applications that are very easy — for both good and bad — and I’ll say those applications typically take about five minutes to go through,” Middleton said. “There are some applications that are really hard and those ones take long — how long — maybe 10 to 15 minutes. It really depends a lot on how many recommendations they send in, if they send in any extra materials. Sometimes students send in reports that they have written or artwork that they’ve done or something else just to kind of highlight who they are.”
Applications that make the decision to accept or reject a student more challenging are those that typically consist of a strong transcript, but weak standardized test scores or vice versa. Counselors often rely on seeking consultations with each other in order to make a decision for these kind of applications, according to Middleton.
“I really think that with admissions, what we try doing is try to find reasons to admit students,” Middleton said. “If we have a student that we really like because they have a great activity résumé, but maybe their grades aren’t as strong as some of the other applicants… It’s just sort of nice to bounce ideas off of one another just to get a sense of whether you’re in the right frame of mind when making a decision.
“That’s why I really like that we do the reporting at the end of the process because I know after two or three months of this, there might be a couple of students that I’m really unsure of and make a decision and I really rely on my director to check those and make sure that there’s good decisions made,” he said.
According to Middleton, the number of high school graduates on the East Coast is shrinking, and more colleges in the area are competing over a smaller pool of applications.
The College has also stepped up its focus on trying to attract out-of-state students. The Office of Admissions hired two regional liaisons to go to events and talk to high school students in New England and Long Island.
Middleton said that the College offers special scholarships only available to out-of-state applicants and has invested into placing advertisements in out-of-state regions. According to Middleton, the out-of-state student population currently hovers somewhere around 7 percent, but the College plans on increasing it to 15 percent of the student body.
Middleton said that it is important for the Office of Admissions to reach out to non-New Jersey students in order to increase the College’s national name recognition, something that he claims will be beneficial for New Jersey residents if they applied for employment outside of the state.
“For applicants now, it is better to be an out-of-state student than an in-state student right now,” Middleton said. “Does it significantly change the process? No. But if you’re on the bubble for admissions, I think that we are more likely to admit an out-of-state student right now because we are actively growing that population.”
According to Middleton, who has 15 years experience of working in the Office of Admissions, the way that the office is looking at applications is changing, as well.
“When I started my first year, the College got… about 6,000 applicants that year, and this year we got about 12,000… so there’s just a lot more to read,” Middleton said. “But I think the other big change is that the students who are applying here are just better — they’re stronger academically, they’re much more involved, so it’s really tricky when you know that you can only admit about 45 percent of the people to apply to the school.”
The College is focusing a bit less on standardized test scores, according to Middleton. The College now has programs — such as art, music and interactive multimedia — where submitting test scores is optional. Middleton said that in the past five years, the College has turned to what is called an “enrollment management model” for admissions in which the College examines applications based on the major they plan on studying as a criterion in the admissions process.
“Before that five years, we pretty much took the strongest x number of applicants and didn’t care what it was that they wanted to study,” Middleton said.
As a result, certain majors became overwhelmed with students, while others were struggling to get any students, Middleton said.
The Office of Admissions now works closely with academic departments in order to see how many seats they would have open in order to ensure that the College admits enough students for each department, Middleton said.
If an applicant is not able to get into their first choice of major, but the Office of Admissions believes that they would be a strong fit for the College, counselors might try to give them the opportunity to enroll under a different major, Middleton said.
Middleton said that of the 11,818 applications received by the College, about 5,300 were accepted and they plan on welcoming a class of about 1,450 freshmen for the Fall 2016 semester.
According to The College Board, the College received 11,290 applications in 2015 and admitted 5,495 to the institution, with 1,453 students deciding to enroll. Of the 600 early decision applications submitted, 412 were accepted to the College.
“(An increasing trend is how applications are) stronger academically, they’re much more involved,” Middleton said. “It’s really tricky when you know that you can only admit about 45 percent of the people to apply to the school. There’s a lot of good candidates that don’t get admitted.”
As for the Class of 2020 in particular, Middleton said that the future freshman class at the College will bring about similar students as the current freshman class.
“It’s another really strong applicant pool. It’s similar to the one last year in terms of average SAT, class ranks, involvements — it’s all… really good students (that we are admitting),” Middleton said.