Demand never higher for Middlebury College

MIDDLEBURY — The economy may be bad, but Middlebury College is having no trouble attracting students eager for a liberal arts education.
In fact, according to Dean of Admissions Bob Clagett, this year the admissions office at the college handled 7,978 first-year applications, which is both an increase of 16 percent over last year and the largest applicant pool ever. The larger volume of applicants also meant that admissions officers saw more students with very high extracurricular and academic standings.
“It made for a very challenging year for us,” said Clagett.
He explained that admissions officers rank each applicant on a scale of one through seven. This year, around 2,700 applicants had ratings of six or seven, which would put them in the top 10 percent of their classes at many high schools. By comparison, four years ago only around 2,000 Middlebury applicants were ranked a six or a seven.
“It’s become a more and more selective process in the last few years,” said Clagett.
This year, the college also saw its most geographically and racially diverse applicant pool — more applications from the West Coast, more than 1,300 applications from students of color and 1,504 from international students.
The high academic quality of the applicant pool isn’t the only reason that this year was an especially challenging one for admissions officers. More applications does not necessarily guarantee more of the admitted students will choose Middlebury over another college when it comes time to decide in early May. It is unclear at this point just how many admitted students will actually matriculate.
“We had to ask ourselves, ‘Is this an indication that Middlebury is resonating more deeply, or are more students applying to more colleges?’” said Clagett.
In the end, the college sent out 1,400 acceptance letters this year, targeting a class size of around 580 first-year students in September and around 90 in February.
Though there will be no final numbers on next year’s incoming freshman class until accepted students submit their choices in May, college officials are expecting the total number of students, which has hovered between 2,350 and 2,400 in the past few years, to rise above 2,400. In fact, Dean of Students Gus Jordan anticipates that the final number may be close to 2,450.
That number is on par with the admission goals that college President Ron Liebowitz outlined in his Feb. 12 speech on the institution’s budget plans. In the speech, he described a goal to increase the student body size to 2,450 over the next two years.
With a large incoming class and the unusually large class of 2011 coming back to campus after studying abroad, Jordan said the college is facing a slight housing crunch. He and other college administrators are working on plans to increase the campus’s housing capacity by between 30 and 40 beds.
Although those plans won’t be finalized for another week, Jordan said they would not include construction of any new buildings, and that the college will not be increasing housing outside of campus borders. Instead, the plans will focus on refurbishing buildings for an increased number of junior and senior living spaces.
“We’re hoping that the changes we make now are enough to accommodate anything we’d need over the next couple of years,” said Jordan.
So although there will be no final numbers on next year’s incoming first-year class until accepted students submit their choices in May, the college is gearing up to handle increased numbers of students. And if the next couple of years turn out anything like the last years, applications to the school will likely continue rising. Clagett said this isn’t a trend unique to Middlebury — many highly competitive colleges and universities, including Brown and Harvard, saw unusually large numbers of applications this year.
Even so, he said, the increasing demand seems to be a good sign for Middlebury’s status.
“We want to think that Middlebury is on a roll right now, and that we’re attracting more superb applicants, because of a focus on areas that are resonating deeply, like languages, environmental studies and sciences,” he said.

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