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DOJ investigates Swarthmore’s early decision admissions process

in News by

According to a statement by Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90, Swarthmore received a letter from the Department of Justice requesting that it preserve documents related to Early Decision practices. A group of selective colleges and universities including Amherst, Bowdoin, Middlebury, and Tufts that accept applications through early decision also received the letter. The DOJ is investigating whether the data colleges share with each other during the early decision admissions process, such as the names of students admitted, violate US antitrust laws, according to the New York Times.

Swarthmore has received a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice requesting the preservation of documents about the early admission application process,” Bock wrote in an e-mail to The Phoenix. “We are taking the request very seriously and are fully cooperating with the government,” he added, but couldn’t comment further.

Bock did not comment on why the DOJ wants to investigate Early Decisions data sharing. The antitrust division of the DOJ enforces laws which promote competitive business practices. In 1991, the department investigated the Ivy League universities for collaborating with regard to financial aid offers made to students who were accepted by multiple schools, a practice which was designed to prevent schools from using financial aid funds to compete over the best students. DOJ officials argued that this practice denied students the right to compare prices among schools.

The DOJ’s concern about financial aid competition may apply to the current investigation. Institutions like Swarthmore have less of an incentive to offer robust financial aid packages to early decision applicants since the students have already decided to attend the institution. By ensuring that students apply to only one school, they eliminate competition between schools over prospective students.

The Dean of Amherst College said in 2016 that she shares a list of students accepted through the early decision process with a group of 30 other colleges that offer early decision admission. The list sharing is designed to prevent students from applying early decision to multiple colleges at the same time, violating the contract. US News reported that sharing this data is a generally accepted practice.

Colleges like Swarthmore that offer early decision as an option in the application process require that students apply only to one school and commit to the school should they be accepted. The early decision agreement students sign, however, is not legally binding, according to US News. Admissions departments may allow students out of these agreements for certain reasons such as inadequate financial aid package or sickness of a family member. However, if students apply to multiple schools early decision, they may jeopardize their acceptances to both places.

The schools received letters,  not subpoenas, so while there may be lawyers involved, the DOJ does not look like it will be taking the investigation to court any time soon, if at all. As a result of the 1991 investigation of Ivy League universities, the schools agreed to stop collaborating about financial aid offers. The current investigation could yield a similar result, with colleges agreeing not to share lists of the students they accept early decision. No matter the result, this investigation will only impact future applicants to the school, not current students.

Administration Continues to Increase Access, but aims are limited.

in Around Campus/News by

As the number of students  with disabilities grows, the college’s Student Disability Service is continuing its efforts to reduce the barriers students with disabilities face, such as inaccessible buildings and unaccommodating academic standards.  For students with disabilities, these barriers continue to make it difficult to fully participate in life at Swarthmore. The administration has been somewhat responsive to the needs of the changing student body, but its efforts to make the campus fully accessible are limited by factors like old buildings and laws which stipulate that students with disabilities must self-identify.

In 2007, the college was audited by the Justice Department to examine its compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. At the time, the Justice Department was investigating a number of colleges’ compliance with the law. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act Program Coordinator and Director of the Lang Performing Arts Center Susan Smythe, the audit was somewhat cursory, but served as a major wake-up call for the college. The audit revealed that, among other problems, a significant number buildings were inaccessible to students who used wheelchairs.

The audit led the college to hire an outside consulting firm to conduct a more comprehensive, year-long audit of its own, from which the college developed more extensive and detailed plans to increase the accessibility of buildings. However, the 2008 global financia crisis forced the college to put these plans on hold, as the college significantly reduced overall capital spending that year. During the years following the financial crisis, a Campus Master plan was developed which called for the construction of many new buildings. The plan further delayed efforts because the college decided it would not be worth it to make accessible soon to be destroyed buildings. According to Smythe, significant progress has been made in recent years, including the fact that now all academic buildings are accessible to students who use wheelchairs. The accessibility plans are continuously changing as the college continues to plan more building construction.

Additionally, the number of students with mobility impairments has increased significantly in the last few years. The college went nearly a decade without a student who used a wheelchair, and now it has three. These new students informed Smythe of a number of problems with the buildings at the college, including that many doors thought to be accessible were actually not accessible and needed modifications. While the college made some of these relatively quick and inexpensive modifications, several buildings on campus, like Wharton and the Intercultural Center, remain inaccessible because of their age and design.  The Americans with Disabilities Act only requires three percent of beds to be fully accessible to students with mobility disabilities. Though a far higher percentage of beds at the college are accessible, there are some dorms the administration does not currently intend to make accessible.

“Wharton is not accessible and we’re never going make it accessible. It’s too old and the design of the building would make it extremely difficult,” said Smythe.

According to Smythe, when she examines accessibility at the college, she prioritizes making programs unique to certain buildings available to students over totally removing all barriers to accessibility.

“If you had some aspect of the psychology program in a building like Papazian in an inaccessible space, you could move it. But many buildings have unique programs, like the Intercultural Center,” said Smythe.

Smythe noted that the renovations  to the Intercultural Center that were announced Monday will make it accessible. Smythe also mentioned that the college is installing accessible bleachers to the baseball field.

The number of students with cognitive disabilities is also increasing on campus. Director of Student Disability Services Leslie Hempling noted that while the college has significant resources for students with cognitive disabilities, it is limited by the laws surrounding disability in higher education.

“It is hard for me to help unless I know a student has a disability. Individuals have a right to self-identify with a disability or potential disability, but under the law it is their responsibility to report.” 

Hempling noted that individuals could be recommended for help from Disability Services by colleagues or friends , but it is still up to the student to accept and engage with these services. Students also need an official diagnosis with documentation for Disability Services to be provided with accommodations by the college. Hempling said that the nature of many cognitive disabilities as well as “invisible illnesses” like chronic pain or migraines also hinder Disability Services’ ability to identify and help students. 

”When we are trying to figure out how to best help a students with a chronic unpredictable illness that causes unexpected absences, it can be very challenging,” she explained.

Admissions also attempts to make itself accessible to prospective students with disabilities. Director of Admissions Jim Bock said that prospective students are told about the resources the college has available, and and tours are provided that allow prospective students with disabilities to see all of campus.

“We will work with each student individually before arrival and once [they are] on campus.  We do encourage dialogue before matriculation when we are aware of a student who may request accommodation,” said Bock.

According to Smythe, who is also involved with the admissions’ efforts to be more accessible, the accommodations can include sign language interpreters and aids for students with visual impairments.

While the college has made a number of efforts in recent years to improve accessibility, there are still a number of buildings and programs that remain inaccessible to students and it continues to be difficult for many students with cognitive disabilities to live a healthy life at the college. It remains to be seen what the college administration will do to further increase accessibility for students with all types of disabilities.  

The Truth about the ‘Sports Sway’

in Sports by

Despite its reputation amongst our hometown friends and neighbors as either a word that doesn’t exist or a mispronunciation of Hogwarts, Swarthmore is an incredibly difficult school to get into. Although there is no known magical formula that will merit an acceptance into Swarthmore, our entire student body covered all the application bases and went through the same application process. We adorned our transcripts with shiny AP or IB classes, polished our apps with slightly-longer-than-short essays, and even threw in an extra sparkle with how we were the president of that one club that one time. We all paid our dues and worked hard to get in here, regardless of the differences in our applications.

But what if there was one difference that helped a select group of applicants stand out from the rest of the crowd? An application with an extra garnet-like jewel that signifies that this application is that of a student athlete’s, or in other words, a recruit’s? It shows the admissions staff that this student’s application has been supported by a fellow member of the Swarthmore faculty who has already offered the student a position on their respective team’s roster.

Is the title “recruit” truly advantageous to a student’s application or is this notion of the “sports sway” just a myth?

Dean of Admissions Jim Bock explained that, “all files are read at the same time and compete in the same broader pool,” meaning that whether or not a student is a recruit, their application is not separated from the others and are all considered concurrently. “We do look at the strength and talent of a prospective student athlete based on a coach’s assessment when appropriate and when there is interest from a coach,” Dean Bock continued, “and we believe it might impact a decision in a positive way.”

However, this positive impact is also applied to those who submit optional supplements such as an original composition on the violin or a portfolio of watercolor paintings. “Being a recruit is no different than being a musician, an artist, a dancer or someone who juggles flaming knives,” explained Head Women’s Soccer Coach Todd Anckaitis. “Admissions seems to like those types of people regardless of their specific interest,” he said.

Nevertheless, the official support of a Swarthmore athletic coach seems like a fairly big advantage to a student’s application, especially to those who receive it. “I really don’t think I would have gotten into this school if it wasn’t for baseball,” revealed Henry Cappel ’17, a member of the baseball team, as he explained the advantages he reaped from being a recruit. “I applied early decision with baseball and I really think it helped me out. There’s definitely a sports sway,” he concluded.

But this kind of talk sounds a lot like the typical Swattie who, although extremely intelligent and capable of being admitted, doesn’t know why or how they got in. Despite Cappel’s belief, Dean Bock reiterated that although the coach is in constant contact with the admissions staff and sends them the names of the recruits he supports, “the coach determines the talent… and the admissions office determines admissibility.” This implies that no matter how fast Cappel can pitch a ball or how desperate the coach is to have Cappel on his team, if he doesn’t have the brains he doesn’t get the acceptance letter. “All students are admitted because we believe they can succeed and thrive at Swarthmore academically, intellectually and socially,” Dean Bock concluded.

Thomas Vernier ’17, member of the tennis team, also commented on the sports sway and whether or not he believes it affected his admission into Swarthmore. “To me, being a recruit means that the coach was interested in me coming and was able to give me a boost to my application. If I was on the borderline, being a member of the tennis team could help me out,” he said. However, he was sure to emphasize that his coach’s support was not the loudest voice in the admissions room. “My coach insisted on the fact the he wasn’t the one making the final decision, but that he could have just a little bit of a push,” he explained.

After serving as a crucial member to the tennis team during his freshman year, Vernier has grown to know his teammates well and knows that tennis is not the reason why all of them are here. “I can tell that everyone on the team is someone that would be competitive with anyone else academically. [Head Coach Mike] Mullan told me to not even think about joining the tennis team if I wasn’t interested in the academics that Swarthmore offers,” he said.

A fellow member of the tennis team, Alex Min ’17 echoed Vernier’s sentiments about the importance of prioritizing as a student athlete. “We all play tennis because we all really enjoy it and want to keep playing in college,” Min said. “I’m sure for all of us, academics are the main priority.”

Even during the time of a high school recruit’s official visit, the coaches who meet with them emphasize the importance of valuing academics and possessing the capacity to handle Swarthmore’s workload. Peter Carroll, Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach, explained that during these meetings, he discusses his athletic program with the recruit but focuses on the academic baggage that accompanies a Swarthmore acceptance more. Carroll explained, “The meeting starts out as an informational session mostly discussing the benefits of a Swarthmore education. But more important than the student’s athletic prowess is their interest in the college itself.”

But let’s just consider a scenario where a recruit is accepted into Swarthmore and decides to quit the team on the first day of school. Although this decision may rub a few coaches or fellow teammates the wrong way, admissions is never notified of such an event.

“Students often change their activities and find new ones as they do their prospective majors,” Dean Bock commented. “We do not keep track of this kind of information,” he said, confirming that although sports may be a positive factor of a student’s application, it is not a deciding factor. A recruit’s enrollment has never and will never be contingent upon their continued presence on the team.  No one aspect of an application decides a student’s enrollment. All the impressive tidbits of an application add up whether or not the admissions staff believes that a prospective student will ultimately not only survive, but thrive, from a Swarthmore education. All student-athletes who are here today passed that test and are, hopefully, thriving.

So, sorry, Henry Cappel, but you’re smarter than you think.


Ride the Tide draws high turnout

in Around Campus/News by
Students speak to RTT attendees at the activities fair.
Students speak to RTT attendees at the activities fair. Photo by Ashlen Sepulveda.

This year, 361 prospective students attended Ride the Tide, the college’s annual event for admitted students. Despite the fact that the college received 1000 less fewer applicants this year, this is the second highest total of attendees in the history of the event.

RTT took place from Thursday April 24, to Friday April 25. RTT is designed to give prospective students a sense of life on campus. Prospective students stay with current students and attend events related to academics and activities on campus. Activities for this year included student and faculty panels, academics and activities fairs, soccer with Dean of Admissions Jim Bock, and an a capella concert in the bell tower.

This year marked the third time the event had over 350 attendees and had 25 students more than last year. Eighty-six attendees were early decision applicants.

“Our program was a bit later in the month given the Passover and Easter holidays, and that might account for the increase in attendance,” wrote Bock in an email to the Phoenix. “It varies year to year, and I do not believe we overlapped with other school’s programs. I know students were headed to other programs after ours.”

Additionally, at the end of the event the admissions office received a record number of deposits, which guarantee a student’s matriculation into the class of 2018.

“Typically, we get a handful of deposits, but we received 17 this year,” wrote Bock in an email to the Phoenix. “We are ahead of where we were last year on this date, but we will not have final numbers on the class until after May 1, as that is the national candidate’s reply date. The number changes daily as we receive more decisions, and to date, the quality of the class remains exceptional.”

Current students who hosted prospective students during the event also found it to be a positive experience.

“I decided to sign up because I thought it would be a good experience, and I needed something to look forward to during the stressful time before finals,” said Sassicaia Schick ’17, a host for RTT. “To be honest, it’s not a real drain on your time unless you go out of your way to control their time here, but they had plenty of things to do without us becoming involved. We weren’t babysitting, just having fun. And I would definitely do it again.”

Prospective students who commented on the event in the final evaluation, in which students are able to offer feedback and suggestions on how to improve the event,  noted that they wished the event was longer and that they enjoyed meeting students and faculty.

One stated, “Everyone was really friendly and welcoming.  It gave me a better sense of the school’s atmosphere and culture.”

Another prospective student said, “[It was] very well organized, lots of opportunities to get information about all of the academic and extracurricular options.  Everyone was very welcoming.  The experience was very immersive.”

Decisions about matriculation to the class of 2018 are due on May 1.

Acceptance rate rises to 17% for class of 2018

in Around Campus/Around Higher Education/News by

The admissions decisions mailed out by the college last week mark a decrease in applications to the college and a dip in selectivity for the class of 2018. While applications from the college steadily increased from 6,547 in 2011 to 6,614 in 2013, this year the college received only 5,540 applications. The college has accepted a similar number of students this year, 930, as in 2013, 947, and 2012, 935. The college expects that 405 students will enroll in the class of 2018, in line with its plan to continue to increase the size of the student body. 

“We try to fall within three to five students every year of our target,” said Dean of Admissions Jim Bock. “We’re conservative enough to allow us to admit a few from the waitlist.”

The decrease in applications has resulted in a decrease in selectivity, with 17 percent of students admitted, compared to 14 percent in 2012 and 2013 and 16 percent in 2010. This is despite an extension in the deadline for regular admissions applications to January 15 after issues with the Common Application impacted submissions for students across the country. A number of other colleges also decided to extend their deadlines to address the technical problems.

Bock attributed the drop in applications to, among other things, “an increase in early decision activity at peer institutions; economic and demographic trends affecting many schools, especially in the northeast; and an additional essay the College required this year.”

Changing admissions trends for the class of 2018 were also observed at comparable institutions, including Williams College. Williams accepted 1,150 students, an acceptance rate of 18 percent, up from 17 percent last year, while applications dipped slightly from 6,853 to 6,316.

In stark contrast, the University of Pennsylvania saw a record number of applications, accepting only 10 percent of applications this year compared to 12 percent last year.

Letters were mailed to domestic students on March 27 and emailed to international students and Americans abroad on March 31 to ensure that everyone received their decision by April 1. If students had not heard by April 1, they were invited to call and speak with a regional dean who would inform them of their decision.

According to Jim Bock ’90, vice president and dean of admissions, in future years, the college may switch to exclusively electronic notifications of admissions decisions. This is a practice that many comparable institutions such as Williams and Amherst have adopted in recent years.

A major factor in the decision of many admitted students will be Ride the Tide, a weekend for prospective students, which will take place on April 24 and 25.

Students admitted through the regular decision process have until May 1 to decide whether they will matriculate.

For the month of April, the admissions committee will be reviewing the applications of potential transfer students, whose deadline for application was April 1.

These applicants can also expect to be notified of their admissions decisions in early May. The college expects that ten transfer applicants will be accepted.

Admissions Hopes for Larger Yield for 2017

in Around Campus/Breaking News/News by

For 929 teenagers worldwide, Monday April 1st will bring more than silly pranks and wacky jokes. It will bring an acceptance letter to Swarthmore College. Regular admissions decisions were sent out Tuesday morning, concluding a reading season that started when the first applications were submitted in December.

According to Jim Bock, vice president and dean of admissions, the college saw a record 6,614 applicants, up from 6,589 last year. Applicants hailed from 49 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and a slew of foreign countries including distant Mongolia and Bhutan. Overall, the number of applicants without US citizenship increased by 18 percent, said Bock, as did the number of applications from the states of Arizona and Washington. The most popular intended major of applicants was Engineering, continuing a trend from last year.

The number of students admitted, coincidentally, turned out to be the same as last year, although the Admissions Office hopes to yield a class of around 391, slightly more than in previous years. “We want to be at capacity and we are always replacing the leaving senior class,” said Bock. “If you go under capacity it’s less revenue. If you go over it’s a housing crisis.”

In the past, the college has been able to yield fairly close to their goal, however Bock did recall one year where the incoming class was overenrolled by 40 students, and another when it was under-enrolled by 75. “There’s always the joke, ‘What if all 929 say yes?’,” said Bock, although he does not expect that will happen. He also stressed the importance of yielding. A notable part of the yielding process are accepted student events such as Ride the Tide, the accepted students visiting program that will be held April 18-19. Ride the Tide offers prospective students an opportunity to engage in such activities as late night soccer with Dean Bock, meetings with cultural and student groups, faculty and alumni panels, and the Student Activities Fair. Beyond all of the activities on campus, prospective students also get to meet each other as well as current Swatties.

“I would say, anecdotally, the thing that brings kids in most has more to do with the unstructured, spur of the moment conservations they have with current students,” said Christine Costello, associate dean of admissions, who is in charge of planning the event. Costello also noted that the importance of Ride the Tide lies in allowing accepted students to feel like Swarthmore students for a day. “We want to be able to showcase who Swarthmore is to the students,” she said.

The students seemed to share the same mentality and spirit in their applications as did those from previous years, according to Bock. “Every year, we see the commitment to doing good, especially in the ‘Why Swarthmore?’ essays,” he said.

For now everyone will just have to wait and see which of those 929 will continue to do good next fall here at Swarthmore.

Early Decision Applications Conclude for Class of 2017

in Around Campus/News by

With the second round of early decision applications complete, admissions staff have sequestered themselves away as they work to finalize decisions.

Not every school provides a second Early Decision option, but the college continues to offer one in case a student misses visiting, testing, or interviewing opportunities before the first early decision deadline, said Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90.

The Admissions Office does not record separate statistics for fall and winter Early Decision applicants. “We report combined numbers for both fall and early decision as that is how guide books and surveys report them. It is easier and cleaner to add the numbers and report our combined early decision statistics for the sake of comparison,“ said Bock. Nevertheless, the numbers show that students are attracted to both options.

According to Bock, the college received approximately 540 early decision applicants this year, second only to last year’s 575 and only the third year in which the college has broken the 500 Early Decision applicant mark. Last year the College received 6,616 total applications, compared to a record 6,632 this year.

The students applying have not changed much either. “The pool remains competitive and strong on all measures,” said Bock. Admitted students highlighted finding kindred spirits as their motivation for applying early.

“I immediately connected with the student body,” said Emma Eppley, a senior at the College Preparatory School in Berkeley, CA, who was accepted early. Eppley fondly recalls a campus visit that involved hallway conversations on an eclectic range of topics, from technological advances over the past fifty years to DNA sequencing to Tolkien and Firefly.

Demographically, fewer women and more men applied early than in previous years, as did a record number of non-U.S. citizens. Geographically, there were fewer early decision applicants from the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic. The college also saw a drop in early applicants from New York, a trend that may have resulted from Hurricane Sandy. “We worked with several students who needed extensions to submit transcripts, scores, and other support material due to school closings in early November,” said Bock.

Although he cannot comment on matriculation and admission statistics until decisions are mailed, Bock said, “We are excited by this year’s combined early pool.”

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