As Acceptance Rate Drops, a Nod to the East Coast

The acceptance rate to Claremont McKenna is projected to hit a record low of 13-14% in 2011, with 4,453 high school students submitting applications to join the Class of 2015.

A preliminary overview of the applicant pool by the admissions committee showed trends continuing from last year, including an increase in the number of international students applying, as well as an increase in applicants from California— likely due to growing concerns with recent budget cuts to the University of California system.

Despite these concerns, top-ranked UCs have reported an increase in applications as well. But the drop for CMC will be a particularly dramatic one, as the College has witnessed an acceptance rate fluctuating between 16-19% since the recession began in 2007.

As the state of California tries to grapple with a financial crisis all of its own, institutions of private higher education, with the resources to provide substantial aid, have filled a need. And the admissions office sees only two major weights on the entire West Coast that can compete with the UC system: Stanford and the Claremont Colleges.

Claremont McKenna Dean of Admissions Richard Vos notes that, despite notable advances from Claremont, Stanford is still the 800-pound gorilla in California, a state in which one-eighth of all Americans reside.

Admissions uses that figure to defend the percentage of California locals in the student body, which has held steady at roughly a third for years now.

But nevertheless, admissions has put a huge emphasis on East Coast recruitment, with officers spending more time in the region than anywhere else in the country.

"There's much more of an appreciation for private higher education on the East Coast," Vos told the Forum. "Williams doesn't worry too much about losing people to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Out here, the UCs are respected, and powerful. And there are very few private schools out here."

Add to that Claremont McKenna's youth— it has only had its current name for thirty years— and the admissions office finds it hardly surprising when smaller crowds show up for brochures in Manhattan high schools.

Vos admits that, as in recent years, the acceptance rate for applicants from the East Coast is likely to be higher than the total rate— and that, conversely, the acceptance rate for California students will be lower.

"We want to have geographical diversity, and so, when we're down to the final throes of the admissions committee process, and we find a student that could go either way, we take the student from Vermont, or Pennsylvania," Vos said. "We do give a bit of a nod to geography in that case, yes."

"But often," Vos added, "mom says, 'I don't want you going that far.'"

In a given year, Claremont McKenna will have four people enroll from the Horace Mann School in New York and three from Phillips Academy at Andover. The following year, it may be that neither school will be represented.

But feeder schools don't really exist for CMC in California, either. In a class of 280 students, most high schools are likely to only have one student a year accepted and enrolled.

Ultimately, the emphasis on East Coast recruitment is about more than geographic diversity. The majority of liberal arts colleges are there, and because of that, some argue that college presidents tend to vote in U.S. News reputational rankings with a regional mindset.

"In that one aspect," Vos agreed, "East Coast bias, or favoritism, does rear its head."