Many, Many More Applicants to Wes

As readers of this blog know, I spend a lot of time writing about the value of a pragmatic liberal education. I even “predicted” a resurgence of interest in this great American form of education in an short piece for the Wall Street Journal.  But even I was surprised when I heard we had a tremendous surge in the number of applications we’d received at Wesleyan. The class of 2020 will be chosen from our largest applicant pool ever.  As of Feb. 1, 12,026 students had applied, marking a 22 percent increase over the previous year and a 10 percent increase over the previous all-time high three years ago for the Class of 2017. Here’s the Wes news story about the applicant pool:

“We’re very pleased by not only the sheer number of students who can see themselves at Wesleyan—amongst the highest of any liberal arts college—but also by the highly talented and diverse nature of the applicant pool,” said President Michael Roth. “I’d like to believe this is evidence that we’re about to see a resurgence of pragmatic liberal arts education in this country.”

The number of applications rose fairly consistently across the country and within different demographic groups. The pool is quite diverse, with 36 percent self-identifying as students of color. Increasing the representation of those first-in-their-family to go to college and international students are high priorities for Wesleyan, so “it is particularly exciting to see increases in applications from first-generation students” —up 41 percent from last year—and those outside the U.S. — up 24 percent, said Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Nancy Hargrave Meislahn.

“We are excited to see such a high level of interest in Wesleyan!” Meislahn said. “Last year we felt that the word about our change to test-optional hadn’t yet reached all those top students who we want to look seriously at the opportunities here, especially students without sophisticated college advising or who might be intimidated by Wesleyan’s typically daunting score profile. This surge in applications is wonderful testimony to our success on that front.”

Regular decision applicants will be notified of admission decisions on March 25, and all 2020 prefrosh are welcome to campus for WesFest 2016 on April 13-15.

People have been asking me why we’ve had such strong application pool growth. Surely, our decision to go test optional is one factor. We did that because we believe that standardized tests only tell a small part of the story for many applying to college. Our research indicated that going test optional would bring us more applications from under-represented groups—and indeed this has been the case. But our application growth among those who did submit scores was also in double figures.

In any case, we are delighted that the message about Wesleyan is getting out to more students in more parts of the world. On campus we continue to work together to make Wesleyan more equitable and inclusive—a place ever more effective in empowering students to lives of meaning and purpose after graduation. That work will continue, and I look forward to finding out later this spring which new Wesleyans will be joining in this endeavor!