Scott Meiklejohn: The View From Admissions

Bowdoin’s Dean of Admissions, Scott Meiklejohn, writes about the incoming first-year class, a busy summer, and preparing to do the whole thing all over again.

One of my colleagues in the admissions office has a t-shirt that says: “The numbers are fine—thanks for asking.” It’s usually meant to be worn sometime after our May 1st deposit deadline, when we know how many students are in the new class at Bowdoin (and when everyone on campus is asking the same question: “How are the numbers?”).

The numbers are fine at Bowdoin this year, even though I don’t feel that we’ve wrapped up our work on the entering Class of 2014 quite yet. That will come in a couple of weeks, on an evening when Barry Mills and I welcome the class to Bowdoin, when they are all together in one room, here, on campus. It’s an exciting time—and it’s also very satisfying to see the 510 individual faces we know from the admissions process assembled in Pickard for the first time and ready to begin their years at Bowdoin. It’s when I can actually see them there, in their seats, that the work seems done. We’re handing them over to the College, like a big gift-wrapped box with 510 surprises inside. “Dear Bowdoin: Happy new school year. We worked really hard to make this for you. I hope it’s what you wanted.”

By the way, that number wasn’t a typo. The Class of 2014 will be our largest class ever—although maybe not as big as you have heard. Last year’s Class of 2013 was 494 students; so we will have exactly 16 more first-years than we had last fall. Not such a big change. Bowdoin had 6,018 applications for the class, a slight increase over the previous year. We admitted 1,185 students via our two early decision rounds and regular admission—an overall admit rate of 19.7%. There are 39 states and 18 foreign countries represented in the class. Public school students (57.1%) again outnumber parochial (11.3%) and private school (31.5%) students. More than 46% of the class is receiving need-based financial aid, so it is a seriously diverse group in socio-economic terms. We have a few more men than women in the class. We have an all-time record number of students of color coming to Bowdoin. Ten percent of the class is first-generation college students. Oh, and it’s a wicked smart group on a number of different measures; we have 52 National Merit Scholars in the class, nearly double the number we had in the Class of 2007. Our yield on offers of admission was higher than predicted, and we made no offers of admission from the waitlist for the first time in many years. That was the good news/bad news side of our success—great that so many of the students we admitted chose us, but an impossible year to be on the waitlist.

With no activity from the waitlist, you might think that summer is a slow time for the admissions office. It’s true that the pace is a little different from April or November, and I’ve managed to lose/win a few bucks to/from Coach Meagher and President Mills on the golf course. But summer is crazy busy for us, and one recent week provides a pretty good indicator of some of what will go into selecting next year’s class, the Class of 2015. Our normal summer day is two information sessions (usually 40 to 80 people each) and four tours. On the day I started writing this column, we had 31 students here for interviews. We had a visit from 40 college counselors from international schools—they were doing a “if this is Wednesday it must be Bowdoin” tour of New England colleges, and they all wanted to know about Bowdoin’s commitment to enrolling international students. A young Bowdoin alumna, Nora Dowley ’04, who teaches at a highly diverse school in Boston, brought a group of her students for a tour. Dan Spears ’81 was here with his wonderful Bowdoin Bound group. A college counselor from a prep school in L.A. (Los Angeles, not Lewiston-Auburn) came to discuss our relationship with his school. Some of our loyal BASIC members here in Maine were in the office to push me about Bowdoin’s commitment to the Maine students. Point taken, although no push needed. We continue to enroll between 55 and 60 Mainers in every entering class, but with nearly 500 Maine applicants, we face tough choices here as we do in other parts of the applicant pool.

In that same week, Director of Athletics Jeff Ward and I were working, cordially as always, with some new NESCAC guidelines for communication between admissions and athletics. We field 31 varsity teams and our work has to take athletics into account. We have been developing a new method for prospective students to submit art, music, theater, and dance supplements as part of their applications (with the renovation of the theaters and the art museum and the creation of Studzinski Hall we are seeing a lot more arts supplements and enrolling more talented musicians, dancers, and other artists). A veteran Bowdoin class agent visited with his son, and a longtime BASIC member brought her daughter for an interview (legacies account for about 8% of each recent class). There were also a variety of special requests for time and conversation and counseling, which we tried to accommodate as best we could.

As the door marked “entrance” seems to get smaller at Bowdoin each year, and as the applicant pool grows and the various pressures for places in the class get more complex, we are still trying to provide as personal an experience as possible for the thousands who apply. That doesn’t mean that we can always provide good news at the end of the process, and I’m sure at least a few readers of this column have scratched their heads about admissions decisions at Bowdoin over the years. But the College is an excellent, straightforward, and accessible place, and our practices and our office should reflect the best of Bowdoin in that way.

Finally, for all of the ways that the college search has been transformed by technology, it’s clear that Bowdoin people (alumni, parents, and current students) still play a tremendous role in telling the College’s story. There is a place on the Bowdoin Supplement of the Common Application for students to indicate “how did you first learn about Bowdoin.” The guidebooks and websites are all well-represented in what students say, but much more frequent are comments such as “my dad’s friend went to Bowdoin and thought it would be a good school for me,” or “my dentist has a daughter at Bowdoin,” or “a teacher whose opinion I respect suggested I look into Bowdoin,” or other comments that reflect the extended Bowdoin family’s enthusiasm for this place. With that continued help from Polar Bears everywhere, that t-shirt about the numbers is going to be appropriate attire each and every May.


  1. Excellent article. Even as Bowdoin evolves, much remains the same.

  2. Jared Liu says:

    Congratulations to Bowdoin and the Office of Admissions! Sounds like a healthy report, and I enjoyed reading it. Indeed, 500+ does sound large. Is it possible that the student body has grown nearly 20% in the last 10 years, though? What’s the long-range target?

  3. Ted Sandquist says:

    Hi Scott: Wonderful article – you’re doing a great job for ‘da Bears; come see us in Denver; we’ll host a Bowdoin club party at our beautiful home. Just completed riding in Iowa’s famous RAGBRAI (Des Moines Register Annual Great Bike Across Iowa” – I actually rode 350 or the 450 mile week long tour – from the Missouri to Mississippi River. Iowa grandkids joined us for three days. You a bike rider? I’m looking to put together a “greater Sandquist family and friends” group next year. Best always, Ted.

  4. Mary Robinson says:

    Praises to you and your team for enabling such a talented, diverse and promising group to join the Polar Bear community each year. Thanks for the brief review of the incoming class!

  5. Mary OConnell says:

    A great article updating the status of this year’s admissions process. The college is very lucky to have you at the helm! Thanks to you and the admissions team for accepting such a diverse and talented class.
    All the best, Mary

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