Competition at Ivy League colleges this year has been intense, with schools like Dartmouth, Yale, Brown and Harvard seeing a spike in applications and slimming acceptance rates.
At Dartmouth College, applications for admission jumped by one-third in a single year, according to Lee Coffin, vice provost and dean of admissions and financial aid. In raw numbers, he said, the school saw about 7,000 additional applications over the year before.
Coffin said the increase was partially due to the pandemic.
“There was just a lot of uncertainty, so it prompted students to send in more applications than normal,” he said. Another factor, he said, was the suspension of its testing requirement.
“I think that invited students to think about, like, ‘Let’s try and see what happens’,” Coffin said.
The result was a 6.2 percent acceptance rate, the lowest in the school’s history, with 1,749 students admitted out of 28,357 applicants.
The wave of applications didn’t extend to all colleges and universities in New Hampshire. Two of the schools in the University System of New Hampshire received fewer applications in 2021 than in 2020. Keene State College received about 400 fewer applications than the 4,688 it had received at this time last year, an 8 percent drop. The slide was less at Plymouth State University, which received about 200 fewer applications than the 6,394 it received as of last spring, a 3 percent drop.
At the University of New Hampshire, the opposite was true. The school had received 20,933 applications for 2021 so far, an increase of 1,307 or about 7 percent more than the year before.
Some of the state’s small, private colleges aren’t seeing the same gains as Dartmouth, or even UNH, and are trying hard to keep pace with past enrollment.
At New England College in Henniker, the school saw a slight drop in enrollment during the pandemic.
“The last year has been difficult for students and faculty, but New England College has done very well with remote learning and keeping our residential campuses open for the fall and spring semesters during this academic year,” said President Michele Perkins.
As COVID-19 cases rose and fell, some students wanted to stay closer to home.
“Our residential undergraduate population has declined somewhat, but growing graduate enrollments, including international students, will keep the college quite close to last year,” Perkins said.
Colby-Sawyer College in New London has been ahead of pace for accepting students throughout the admissions cycle, according to Anna Miner, vice president for admissions and financial aid.
“We feel our welcoming community and sense of place is resonating with our prospective students and families,” Miner said.
To keep interest high during the pandemic, schools had to get creative with virtual admissions events, while lifting some application criteria, like assessment tests, since the pandemic prevented some students from taking the exams.
Keene State had already done away with its SAT requirements except in its nursing and honors programs. But this year, the school did not require test scores for those programs either and will later decide whether to make that change permanent, according to Peg Richmond, director of admissions at Keene State.
“We wanted to break down every barrier we possibly could,” Richmond said.
The admissions team had to change its approach during the pandemic by coordinating virtual events with prospective students and faculty.
“Everybody is recruiting, and it’s working,” Richmond said.
A crucial change at Dartmouth was the admissions team’s use of virtual recruitment efforts.
“Because we were forced into this remote workplace, admission officers had to imagine new strategies to recruit,” Coffin said. Between May 2020 and December 2020, Dartmouth saw a 64 percent increase in contact with prospective students.
“Instead of having to travel to do outreach, we were able to do Zoom programming and other webinars,” he said. A typical in-person admission info session would accommodate about 100 people, while the online events allowed for up to 1,000 to join.
Marlin Collingwood, interim vice president for communications, enrollment and student life at Plymouth, said the biggest effect of the pandemic was how it “impacted the way we operate and talk to students.”
“The one-on-one connection with students has suffered. We’ve had to make up for that,” Collingwood said.
Collingwood said prospective students from inside and outside of New Hampshire might be taking a closer look at colleges here.
“Maybe this isn’t the time for an urban college experience or an experience at a school with 40,000 students,” he said. “I think we benefit from that, and we benefit from our small community feel on campus.”
Admissions officials remained confident that enrollment will continue to grow, as pandemic concerns fade and people return to school.
“As more students realize that things are coming back to a new normal, I think we’ll see our numbers continuing to rise like they were before,” Collingwood said.