The country's economic downturn has hit everything from gas prices to college endowments, and many speculated that the number of early decision applicants would be no exception.
The contractual obligation of applying early was expected to deter families who would rather wait and weigh financial aid offers than commit to Bowdoin without knowing how much aid they were going to receive. Much to the surprise of many colleges, however, early decision rates increased this fall.
Bowdoin's has received 480 early decision applications so far, a 7.9 percent increase since this time last year.
"People are scratching their heads and saying 'oh, we're not down'," said Interim Dean of Admissions Scott Meiklejohn.
Peer schools have reported similar increases. Colby College admission counselor Jamie Brewster said that Colby's early decision numbers are up 13 percent from last year. Haverford's early decision numbers are also up 13 percent, while Dartmouth's are up 10 percent and Hamilton's have increased by 8 percent, according to the article "The Bubble That Didn't Burst" from www.insidehighered.com.
Meiklejohn said that Bowdoin's increases are due in part to two specific sources.
The College has worked especially hard in recent years to spread information about the College?and how to pronounce its name?in areas where it is not well known, according to Meiklejohn. These regions include the Midwest, West, South, and Southeast; essentially, Meiklejohn said, "anywhere outside New England and the Mid-Atlantic." States with recent population growth including Florida, Texas, Nevada, and California are especially important to these efforts.
A second factor which may have attracted students to Bowdoin this year is the College's recent replacement of student loans with grants. This change was largely motivated by a desire to reduce the debt with which some Bowdoin students graduate, especially that of students interested in traditionally low-paying fields such as teaching or social work.
"[Over the summer] the number of interviews, people on tours and people attending info sessions was up," said Meiklejohn.
He said that in July, the number of prospective students visiting campus was up 15 percent in July and about 18 percent in August. Nevertheless, the Admissions Office was not convinced that this would translate into a high number of early decision applications in the fall.
"Even though we were up in the summer, I think a lot of deans were bracing themselves for ED numbers to be flat or down. We were all wondering how changes in the financial environment would affect numbers this year," said Meiklejohn.