By Madeleine Thompson
This week, the Office of Admissions announced that it had received 6,547 applications for the 2014-2015 school year. The number far surpassed the Office’s higher-than-average estimates for this admissions period — the first since the supplemental essay’s elimination.
Kenyon’s acceptance rate for the past few years has hovered around 35 percent, but if the College were to accept the same number of students out of this year’s applicant pool as it did from last year’s, the regular decision acceptance rate would drop to 22 percent.
“We had been tracking every indicator across the course of the fall, and it looked like it would be a big applicant pool,” Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jennifer Delahunty said. Even so, she added, “we were very surprised.”
While Delahunty acknowledged the decision to eliminate the supplement was a factor in the unexpectedly large applicant pool, she did not attribute the jump in applications solely to that change. According to Delahunty, Skidmore College also eliminated its supplemental essay but only received 40 percent more applications.
“It’s got to be something besides the supplement,” Delahunty said of the application surge. “We’ll have to do research in the spring to find out.”
Delahunty’s theories regarding the increase included the College’s new website design, changes to the Admissions Office’s marketing efforts and a more “aggressive” mailing campaign. She also mentioned “the John Green effect,” saying that the author and Class of 2000 graduate was “immensely popular right now.” Last year, 275 of the students who applied to Kenyon mentioned Green in their applications.
Though she declined to provide the Collegian with a full breakdown of the applicant pool’s demographics, Delahunty offered several statistics that she said indicated a promising group of prospective students.
The number of first-generation applicants rose 73 percent from last year. International applications rose 110 percent, and applications from American students of color rose from 870 last year to 1,444 this year, a two-thirds increase.
Applications from the West and Southwest of the United States rose 69 percent. “Those were two areas we’d been focusing on,” Delahunty said.
In addition to the geographic and racial diversity of the applicant pool, Delahunty said her office was “reaching into some areas where we haven’t had penetration before.” She said “personal referrals,” including friends, guidance counselors and alumni, were the most important factors leading this year’s applicants to seek a spot at Kenyon.
Delahunty also noted that applicants’ average SAT scores on the test’s reading and writing components rose 17 points, from 1317 last year to 1334 this year. “We’ve been in the same five-point range for six years,” she said, “so that’s an amazing change.”
In the 11 years since Delahunty started working at Kenyon, she said, the number of applications per year has “really escalated.” In 2003, her first year at the College, the Admissions Office received around 2,800 applications. Two years earlier, there were 2,001 applications.
“It’s a self-perpetuating problem,” she said. “The more worried students are, the more schools they apply to, and the more schools they get rejected from.”
Worries about housing have circulated for the last few years, because the amount of living space at Kenyon has not increased along with growing class sizes. Delahunty dismissed these anxieties and claimed there was no risk of accepting more students than the school could house.
“That’s hysterical thinking,” she said of concerns about an excessively large student population. “We have all the control about whom we admit.”
Delahunty did, however, acknowledge that yield would be “more difficult to predict with these kinds of numbers,” adding, “my guess is that we will estimate our yield to be approximately the same or slightly lower and use our waitlist in order not to over enroll.”
A main concern with dropping the supplement last fall was that it would encourage students who were less likely to actually attend Kenyon if admitted to apply simply because it required no supplement. Delahunty, however, is concerned that the possibility of a plummeting acceptance rate would make Kenyon look “unachievable.”
“We didn’t do this [supplemental application change] to drive up our numbers,” Delahunty said. “I’m worried about saying no to four out of five students when they apply. … I do worry about that perception, of hitting a selectivity threshold.”
Some peer institutions, including Vassar and Middlebury Colleges, have discontinued their interviews as they have grown more selective, but Delahunty said she did not anticipate changing the admissions process in response to the growth in applications.
“We won’t do that,” she said in reference to discontinuing interviews. “We still want to get to know the students.”