The long admissions journey is almost finished. Tomorrow afternoon, Tufts will release the final round of decisions for our Class of 2020. But before we reach that milestone—and the cheers and disappointment that unavoidably accompany such news—I’d like to pause at this penultimate moment to offer some context for the decisions that are coming.
As you may know, Tufts received 20,222 undergraduate applications this year, a six-percent increase from our twin-record pools of the past two years. In fact, it’s the first time the University has received more than 20,000 applications. When you combine that rising volume with the fixed size of our entering class and the increasing yield we’ve experienced on our offers during the last few years, the admissions arithmetic triggered another drop in Tufts’ acceptance rate.
As the Class of ’20 makes its debut, a record-low acceptance rate of 14 percent produced it. That’s a two-point drop from last year and a 10-point shift in Tufts’ selectivity over the last five years. Those data points are meaningful: excellent, well-rounded students occupy the space between 14, 16 and 24-percent acceptance rates. When I look at the “decision bins” in our on-line application dashboard, the number of files in the bin labeled “Deny” jumps out at me. It is a strong reminder of the practical contours of “selectivity.”
Let me be clear: I am not celebrating the fact that Tufts denies so many students. I am simply observing an unavoidable aspect of a “most selective” admissions process. We must say “no” much more often than we say “yes,” even when we want to give an affirmative response.
The acceptance rate is a vivid example of supply (1,325 places in our next freshman class) and demand (20,222 applicants) in action. And the “supply” Tufts is privileged to consider is quite special: 78 percent of our applicants were evaluated by an admission officer as “qualified” for admission based on the academic credentials we reviewed. That’s almost 16,000 students. Obviously, Tufts cannot accept that many applicants; our classrooms and residence halls could not accommodate such volume. So, as we shaped the projected class, admission officers assessed voice (as I’ve outlined in previous posts) and fit to sort the qualified cohort of applicants into the allotted spaces. It’s much harder than it sounds. As a former colleague often said, it is the work of the work.
We read and reread the required elements of every file—the Common App, the supplemental short essays, the teacher recommendations, the list of extracurricular activities, the personal statement—and we made a competitive, holistic assessment of the sum of its many parts. We assessed personality as well as performance. We noted potential as well as achievement. We valued creativity, collaboration, citizenship and kindness, to name a few of the many qualitative and often intangible characteristics that guided our decision-making. And the selection committee was often impressed by what we read: the various territory managers recommended 40 percent of our applicants as potential acceptances. That’s 8,108 candidates whose applications were compelling from a holistic perspective (i.e., not just evaluating grades and testing).
During the long days of committee deliberations throughout the last few days and weeks, we shaped our next freshman class from this large cohort of talented applicants. We listened as our colleagues introduced one student after another. We digested the merits of the file. We debated, sometimes we argued, but more often we reached consensus. We asked, “How does this student enhance the academic and residential community we are creating?” We wondered how an undergraduate experience at Tufts might best serve the student we were considering.
One by one, we filled each seat in the class until there were no more seats to offer. And that’s an important point to underscore: the admissions process is additive. We are adding students to the class, one by one, rather than deliberately knocking someone out. As I’ve often said, I am Tufts’ dean of admissions not its dean of denial, even if the practical byproduct of our work in Bendetson Hall produces more of the latter than the former.
Competitive college admissions is unavoidably a subjective process but it is not a random one. If the latter seems to be the case when you consider a particular admissions outcome in the days ahead, remember that you don’t have insight into the eloquence of an essay or the wisdom of a teacher recommendation. “Holistic” admissions means there are more elements in play than just the numbers that typically dominate the college admissions story.
If you get a denial letter from Tufts tomorrow, it does not mean we did not like you or that your application lacked merit. In fact, there are strong odds that you were among the academically competitive candidates in our pool. Remember, we had an abundance of quality and a scarcity of spaces. The Admissions Committee had to make some very difficult choices as we built our next first-year class.
It was an honor to get to know you and to learn about your accomplishments and aspirations. And thank you for the compliment of your interest in Tufts. I wish you well.