Although it did not become public knowledge until the summer, the spring of 2013 was a tumultuous time for the college admissions department. Due to a number of ill conceived decisions, misunderstandings, and miscommunications, the College found itself dangerously under-enrolled for the fall of 2013. A series of emergency responses managed to heal much of the damage over the course of the summer and fall, but budgetary scars still remain. With this in mind, The Point News sat down with St. Mary’s new Dean of Admissions, Gary Sherman, to discuss this year’s college acceptance season.
Sherman’s first order of business has been analyzing the mistakes made last year. One of the biggest that he identified was a misinterpretation of applications coming through the Common Application (Common App), which St. Mary’s first began accepting for the class of 2017. Not all applications are equal. Some come from people who are very likely to enroll if accepted while others come from people who are less likely to enroll if accepted. The mathematical representation of this likelihood is what Sherman refers to as an application’s yield. Yield is affected by a great many factors such as academic history, financial status, and the type of application. According to Sherman, the common app has a far lower yield than traditional applications for the simple reason that it is easy to fill out and send to a large number of schools. Traditional applications, in contrast, are more likely to come from people who are specifically interested in attending St. Mary’s. When the common app swelled applications last year, the admissions process failed to account for the less reliable nature of these applications and so accepted too few students.
Sherman is determined to avoid any such errors this year. In addition to avoiding the mistakes of last year, he pointed out that changes to the Common App fee have likely made it slightly higher yielding; an important piece of information for someone who is committed to avoiding over-enrollment as well as under-enrollment.
In addition to the Common App, SMCM has a unique application process that is receiving renewed attention this year. As every student who applied to the College before last year remembers,the St. Mary’s application was known for its open-endedness and eclectic focus. In keeping with this tradition and style, the unique application this year asks for an essay on “the seven wonders of your life,” a prompt that is meant to offer a wide variety of responses which will also provide uniquely interesting information about applicants to reviewers.
There have been several nuanced shifts in the policies of the Admissions Department over the past year. For one, Sherman claims that the Department is putting considerably more effort into applicant outreach. Application reviewers are now more actively providing advice and support for prospective students. One-on-one interviews are now standard for virtually all applicants, a process that used to be available to only a portion. The college currently employs six student counselors, all of which are SMCM alumni, who focus on easing the enrollment process for applicants. Five of these counselors work with potential first-years while the sixth is exclusively focused on coordinating with potential transfer students. In addition to dedicated counselors, certain prospective students have been linked up with faculty members who can provide insight and advice regarding specialized tracks of study. For example, during the interview, Sherman pointed out that St. Mary’s Artist-in-Residence Brian Ganz was on his way to meet with a promising student in Annapolis. The Department has also modified the campus tour guide program by shrinking the size of tour groups and increasing the frequency with which they run. The hope is that this will enable prospective students to get a better sense of the campus and interact with their guide more.
Looking to the future, Sherman described several long term goals for his Department and the admissions program as a whole. He sees considerable value in making sure that the College continues to attract minority and first-generation college students. On the subject of diversity, he also wants to expand the number of out-of-state students enrolled at St. Mary’s. Out-of-state students not only expand the geographical diversity of the school but also provide considerably more tuition than in-state students. He acknowledged that this goal faces an uphill battle as the overall number of out-of-state St. Mary’s students is falling.
Overall, Sherman is highly optimistic. At present, the College has received 125 deposits from accepted early decision applicants, up from 78 this time last year.
Edit: The original version of this article misidentified the organization in charge of the Common Application, it is the Common Application Inc.