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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

Middlebury applications drop to three-year low amidst tuition increases, turbulent year in college admissions

 Middlebury's Admissions Office, located in the Emma Willard House, recently shared a statement on the college's continued dedication to inclusive admissions, as well as demographic statistics about the class of 2028 early decision admits.
Middlebury's Admissions Office, located in the Emma Willard House, recently shared a statement on the college's continued dedication to inclusive admissions, as well as demographic statistics about the class of 2028 early decision admits.

Over a month after the college’s regular decision deadline and seven months since the Supreme Court prohibited affirmative action, Middlebury announced it had received 12,540 applicants for the classes of 2028 and 2028.5, marking a six percent decrease from the record-setting 13,297 applicants last year. 

Twelve days later, the college announced the incoming class of 2028 would join current students in seeing a 3.5% increase in cost of attendance, to $86,850 total, for the upcoming year.

The college’s Feb. 7 statement on admission practices, unusually detailed in its characterization of the third-largest applicant pool in college history, reflected the challenging new situation colleges face in weighing the court’s decision — and the threat of future legal action— against institutional commitments to diversity and inclusion.

“Our pool of Middlebury applicants is strong, mission aligned, and highly academically capable,” wrote President Laurie Patton, Dean of Admissions Nicole Curvin and General Counsel Hannah Ross in the statement. “We remain interested in the lived experiences of students applying to Middlebury.”

They also acknowledged the challenges facing higher education in recent months, noting the decline in the number of students graduating high school, growing doubt in the value of higher education and national scrutiny of college admissions.

“While at present Middlebury is not the most dramatically affected by these trends, applicant behavior for highly selective colleges may become more unpredictable as policies and practices shift,” the statement added.

Despite these recent trends, Curvin stated that there were continuities between past admission cycles and the current year in terms of the college’s goal of building a strong incoming class.

“The Supreme Court decision on the use of race in college admissions has not altered Middlebury’s commitment to serving our mission,” she wrote in an email to The Campus.

The college stated that it accepted 425 students from its largest-ever pool of Early Decision I applicants. Middlebury has not yet released data regarding Early Decision II. It remains to be seen how the combined Early Decision I and II rounds compare to past cycles, which saw 516 students admitted early in 2023 and 438 in 2022, setting records each year.

“While I can’t speak for other institutions, my sense is that for highly selective colleges like Middlebury, there has been growth in students applying through early rounds,” Curvin wrote when asked about the largest-ever pool of Early Decision applicants.

Curvin shared more information about the college’s outreach programs, stating that she is proud of the admissions department’s recent efforts to reach various new communities around the country.

“Our focus has been on meaningful outreach that spreads awareness to students and high school counselors who may be less aware of Middlebury,” Curvin wrote. “Our time spent off campus is focused on regions where there is demographic growth, Title 1 high schools (those with largely low income student populations), and students with diverse lived experiences including regions like the South and Midwest.”

She added that Middlebury admissions staff will attend the National College Admissions Conferences in Texas, California, Illinois and Pennsylvania this coming year to talk about Middlebury and the admissions process. The college also partners with College Horizons, an organization committed to increasing Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian educational access and success, according to Curvin.

Professor of Political Science Bert Jonhson noted the increased outreach to students who do not already know about Middlebury, as well as the college’s reflection on larger themes in higher education.  

“The college’s policies as it shared in its admissions update were largely what I expected this summer and fall in the wake of the Supreme Court decision,” Johnson said.

Professor of Political Science Matthew Dickinson shared his thoughts with The Campus on the recent admissions update and the state of higher education in the United States in general.

“I think the college has to be very careful legally, in how they publicly describe their applicant pool, so as not to run aground of the Supreme Court's warning that you just can't go back to racial based admissions by another means,” Dickinson said. “I think the college is telling us it hasn't changed its goals, but the means for achieving them are a process that they are still refining.”

Dickinson also expressed concern about attracting ideological diversity to campus, based largely in the diploma divide — how college-educated people become more extreme in their political views than the average American. Zeitgeist 5.0 found that only 7% of respondents identified themselves as any form of conservative.

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While general information has been publicly announced in past years, this year’s announcement discussed the applicant pool in considerably more detail. 

Of those admitted in Early Decision I, 43 students are the first in their families to attend college — as opposed to 26 such students in the same round last year — or roughly 10% of the overall group. Thirty-three students, or eight percent of the total admitted in Early Decision I, were international students. Of the students admitted to classes of 2027 and 2027.5, 24% were first-generation and 14% international students.

Johnson noted the updated outreach policies to students who had not heard of Middlebury or who had not formed positive opinions of the college. He further explained that the college may be hesitant to make major changes to its policies until other institutions work through ongoing and forthcoming legal challenges.

“One way in which I think [Middlebury] is trying to get a diverse student body, it's to get a diverse applicant pool, to do everything we can to reach those pockets of areas in which you're more likely to get somebody who was first gen or a racial minority,” Dickinson added.

In the Early Decision I round, Middlebury also matched with seven Questbridge scholars — high-achieving, low-income high school seniors who applied for full-ride scholarships to Middlebury — who will join the college this fall as the second such cohort following the program’s establishment at Middlebury in 2022.

The college also described the overall applicant pool, identifying the ten states with the most applicants as New York, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida and Virginia. 

Middlebury also shared that it received applications from 156 countries, with 716 — or six percent of all applicants — from China alone. Next in descending order were Ghana, with 341 applicants, Canada, with 272, Pakistan, with 234, and India, with 165. Rounding out the top ten were the U.K., with 155 applicants, Mongolia, with 153, Kenya, with 148, Japan, with 127, and Kazakhstan, with 113. Applicants from just 10 out of the 156 total countries made up almost 20% of the total applicant pool this year.

Last year the college accepted students from 45 countries, but did not state the precise number of students from each nation. Middlebury is need-blind for domestic students, but may consider the ability of international students to pay when making admissions decisions. The college meets 100% of demonstrated financial need for accepted students.

Dickinson also described a potential conflict between the increasing reliance on college donors to fund access opportunities and college’s institutional independence, citing recent conflicts between wealthy alumni and institutions such as Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania as part of larger discussion over the power of donors.

“You need these applicants, you want diverse applicants, you're reaching out. But they need to be able to afford to come here. I can't tell you the numbers, but donors can be an important resource that allows the college to diversify its pool, but what's the price that comes with those donors' support? And if they threaten to withdraw that support? I think it raises complications about independence for college administrations,” Dickinson said.

Curvin detailed the future for Middlebury admissions and its goal of building an inclusive student body as a community effort between all who live and work here.

“The work ahead will require everyone in the Middlebury community — students, alumni, faculty and staff — to support our efforts for recruitment as we navigate this new terrain. Middlebury will continue to implement its equity and inclusion plans and to value inclusivity by creating an educational community that embraces talent from every corner of the country and the world.” Curvin wrote.

Dickinson shared his thoughts on the ultimate mission of the college as a diverse student body in light of the various constraints on Middlebury, naming the rural location in Vermont and small student body as likely limiting factors in whether such a goal is feasible.

“Diversity is measured in so many ways. I'm not sure we'd ever know if we fully achieved it,” he added. “We may be very diverse, racially, but not economically, or not ideologically. And so it's a very careful jigsaw puzzle that the admissions people must put together thinking about diversity in all its dimensions.”

Ryan McElroy

Ryan McElroy '25 (he/him) is a managing editor for The Middlebury Campus.  

He previously served as a news editor and staff writer.  

Ryan is majoring in History with a possible minor in psychology or English. He also takes part in Middlebury Mock Trial and on campus. He spent this past summer working as a research assistant in the History department studying Middle Eastern immigration to New England.