Bigger Numbers, Higher Quality
Regardless of which side of the Admission desk you sit on, the competition to get into America's top colleges is real. Sara Rizzo Ziesenitz '00 recently returned to work in Hamilton's Admission Office after three years teaching and pursuing graduate studies. The biggest difference she's noticed between her two stints at Hamilton: "volume and intensity, especially volume."
Shirley Croop, staff assistant and operations manager in the Admission Office, has a slightly longer perspective than Ziesenitz — about 40 years longer. She's played a part in admitting Hamilton's classes since 1960 and is currently the second-longest-serving employee at the College. "I remember when we hit 1,000 applications in one year," she says of 1968. "We thought that was a lot." Now, with the Bicentennial Class of 2012 topping 5,000 applications, Croop concedes that she and her colleagues who process the applications and prepare the files for the admission officers to review have waved the white flag. "We've had to hire temporary help to open mail and file it, because we could never keep up with it," she says. She points to a mail crate next to her desk. "After the first of the year, we get 20 of those coming in every day." From just before Christmas until the first or second week in February, Croop and some of her colleagues now typically work seven days a week just to process the letters of recommendation, transcripts and other supporting materials that are part of each applicant's file.
Director of Admission Lora Schilder, a 30-year veteran of college admission work, says the number of applications is only one part of the story at Hamilton. "The quantity of applicants and the quality have changed," Schilder says.
Achieving improvements on both fronts simultaneously is unusual. Typically, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Monica Inzer observes, when a college improves its selectivity over a short period of time, applications will tend to drop off in subsequent years. That's because some students — those who might have fit the profile of an accepted student two or three years earlier — believe that their chances of being accepted have diminished, so they're less likely to apply. The expected drop in applications has not happened at Hamilton — at least not yet — but Inzer says the College is not taking its newfound selectivity for granted. "It is humbling to admit Hamilton's future," she says. "Many of the students we can't admit are ones any college in the country would be happy to have on campus."