Dean of Admissions Scott Meiklejohn: Decisions — Ours and Theirs

Scott Meiklejohn

Scott Meiklejohn, Bowdoin’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, writes of acceptance letters, the process to get there, and the meaningful decisions now before admitted members of the Class of 2019.

April is the month when the admissions shoe is now on the other foot.

On Friday, March 20, we completed the decision-making process for the Class of 2019 and sent our letters. Well, e-mails. (The thick envelope is sort of anticlimactic in 2015, just a USPS follow-up to news already received electronically.)

We decided, and now they decide. Students waited for a few months to hear from us; in April, we wait as they choose where to go to college. We were in control—now we have no control. Cosmic justice time for admissions people everywhere.

Bowdoin had another fantastic year. The College attracted 6,790 applications from around the world. Many candidates would be wonderful members of this community, but the small size of our entering class (about 500) and the rate at which admitted students say yes to Bowdoin’s offer mean that we accepted a relatively small percentage of the young people who would do well here. This year’s admit rate matches last year’s (14.9%). It’s really hard to get into Bowdoin.

I’d like to acknowledge the work of my colleagues on the Admissions Committee, who devote their winter months to giving each candidate a fair review, juggling the many factors that go into meeting Bowdoin’s institutional priorities, and deciding which students get the letter that begins, “You’re in!”   They give an awesome and thoroughly professional effort, and alumni can be proud of the attention that Bowdoin devotes to every applicant.

There’s a great deal about our process that is very personal, including interviews, essays, campus contact, and other experiences along the way. We make a significant commitment to being available to our applicants, and we hope that what we do is as personal and accessible as it can be (for something that involves thousands of students)—that it represents how Bowdoin College is as a community.

Toward the end, there are also admissions activities that are much more precise than most observers might guess. A final and very important set of decisions, as we near the finish line in March, goes into figuring out exactly, to the number, how many letters we can send in March.

We start with the class size we want on May 1.

We also know how many students are already in the class as of March 1. From Early Decision, our matching activity with a national organization called Questbridge, and the gap year students we approved in the previous year, we always arrive in March knowing that X number of spots are taken, and that from the students we admit in March, we need another Y students to accept the offer.

Figuring out Y—always one of life’s great challenges.

This activity falls to a handful of us in the admissions and student aid area. In particular, as decisions are being finalized in mid-March there is always at least one session with Barry Mills that we have called the “Ouija Board” meeting. I will miss Barry for a hundred reasons, but it’s always fun to run through the what-ifs and the challenges of enrollment projection with someone as quick and as curious as Bowdoin’s fourteenth president.

We look at past offers based on gender, school type, geography, financial aid, and a variety of other factors. We look at yield options that are high and low compared to previous results. We carefully consider the various combinations of Regular and Early Decision-deferred students that could bring the College its perfect next class. What was the yield on men last year? The year before? How about public school students? Women from the South? International students? International students on financial aid? Our Director of Admissions, Whitney Soule, drives the bus on all of our spreadsheets and analysis, and she does a fantastic job.

We lean heavily on the weighted results of the past three years, using a formula that has served us pretty well. We factor in some judgment about what we think might happen in 2015. We speculate about other stuff:  April blizzards? Media coverage? Higher or lower admit rates at other colleges?

And then we arrive at our numbers. Simple, right? Sure. Now, tell me what all the teenagers we just admitted are going to do!

So the shoe is on the other foot now.

April is full of admitted student activities, particularly our campus Open House program and the Bowdoin Experience program on April 16-18.  Students will attend classes, meet faculty, eat some fabulous Bowdoin food, stay in the dorms, kick the tires, and decide if it’s going to be Bowdoin or __________ (fill in the name of another great college or university to which Bowdoin candidates are also admitted). It’s an exciting time of year, for us and for them.

Until May 1, I’ll be watching the deposit inbox and enjoying the season of (their) decision-making.

I look forward to reporting to the Bowdoin community on the Class of 2019.


  1. Scott’s commentary makes for interesting reading. Clearly the Admission’s Process has not gotten any easier over the years.

    I am just struck, however, that no mention is made of “legacies” in all the varying factors, boxes, considerations mentioned as part of the process. One would figure that “being of good stock” should count for something in this marathon. Go Class of 2019!

    Mario Brossi, Esq.
    Class of 1974

  2. Jane Kimball Warren says:

    I trust Scott, his staff and the Admissions Committee implicitly. Bowdoin is such a special place and that is in large part due to the character of the students who attend. Congratulations on getting through another season; now the truly brightest and luckiest kids in the world will be choosing Bowdoin!!

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