Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
A week after Ride the Tide, the 950 students the College admitted into its Class of 2019 make their final decisions about whether to accept or reject their offers. For the admissions office, the decisions are the culmination of one of the most successful rounds of applications in the College’s history.
This year, the admissions office was confronted with the challenge of bouncing back from last year’s disappointing numbers. The college received only 5,540 applications for the Class of 2018, a concerning 16% decline from the previous year. Although Vice President and Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90 attributed the drop to “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,” others pointed to the negative attention the College received for its inadequate handling of sexual assault.
However, the drop seems to be an anomaly–the college received a record 7,817 applicants for the Class of 2019, a 42% increase from the previous year. The college also succeeded in admitting more first-generation college students than ever before, who made up 21% of the Class of 2019, compared to 17% and 15% of the two previous classes.
“The increase in applications was likely attributable to several factors, not least of which is Swarthmore’s enduring reputation as one of the very best liberal arts colleges in the country,” said J.T. Duck, Director of Admissions. Additionally, the college removed a supplemental form and one of the essay prompts from last year’s application, increased the number of traveling admissions officers, and strengthened efforts to reach under-represented and low-income students. “No matter the number of applications, admissions seeks to identify academically talented and intellectually engaged students who will push each other to think bigger and to do better in a supportive, collaborative way,” he added. “Each student we admit will, we believe, contribute some special quality, perspective, and talent to this community.”
Another issue facing the admissions office was the college’s sharp decline in honors and humanities majors in the past three to four years. Although admissions has no way of determining what major students will ultimately choose — the potential major section of the application is not binding, and many applicants indicate “undecided” — they could attempt to compensate for the decline by admitting more students who indicate interest in humanities programs. Historically, the college has given special consideration to applicants interested in Engineering, which has been the most popular intended major among admitted students for the past four years.
“Admissions is aware of disparities in enrollments among different departments and strives to bring in a class that has students interested in each of our many academic programs, some of whom will ultimately pursue honors,” said Duck. Although Engineering remained the only major applicants are specifically admitted to, he said, “we did pay a little more attention to humanities interest this year.” This included an increased effort to work with humanities faculty members to contact admitted students interested in their departments and the inclusion of a humanities open house event as a part of Ride the Tide. “We take seriously the College’s commitment to honors and to the breadth of the liberal arts, and we will continue our efforts to recruit and enroll students that help us live out that commitment,” Duck said.
“In the end, the number of applications is not nearly as important as whether we are attracting students who can contribute to our community and who can thrive here,” said Duck. “We think we have done that again with this year’s class.”