After many years of allowing a January enrollment option to its first year and transfer applicants, Wheaton College has begun phasing out late enrollment. Yet while one program fades in importance, fall applications for the Class of 2016 have yielded unprecedented gains.
Over the past several years, the college has attempted to move the majority of applications to fall admission only. “We used to bring in forty or fifty kids in the spring,” said Gail Berson, the Dean of Admission at Wheaton; this year, that number is less than ten.
Aside from the simplicity of consolidating fall and spring applications into one pool, Berson explained that it is far more convenient for Wheaton’s returning study abroad students if they are not in competition with incoming freshman for available housing.
Despite the move to scale back January enrollment, however, the college did admit several January students this year — both freshmen and transfers.
Associate Dean of Studies and first-year/sophomore class Dean James Mancall coordinates advising for the January admits. “I typically talk to January students over the fall, to help answer questions [and] get them thinking about courses,” said Mancall.
He added that the planning stage for the admits’ arrival begins early in the fall. “Starting in October, we’ll start thinking about January,” he said.
Heather Wilson ’13 is one of four preceptors in charge of peer advising for the spring enrollees. “This year we had … three freshmen and four transfers,” Wilson said. “All four of the preceptors for January helped out with both the [first years] and the transfers, but officially I was charge of the three … freshmen.”
Wilson says that, despite entering a semester late, most January admits will have the same Wheaton experience as their fall peers. “A lot of them still want to graduate on time,” she says, and most will. However, she added, “It is really a credits game,” explaining that special attention needs to be paid if a student wants to study abroad.
“We still encourage them to try things out, [and] you still don’t have to declare your major until the end of your fourth semester [fall of junior year]. … So they do have some extra time,” Wilson further explained.
Even while the Office of Admission has scaled down its spring applicant pool, the school has experienced an unprecedented 15 percent increase in applications for fall 2012 admission.
“We are among a very small club of schools reporting big increases,” says Berson. “Almost everybody else is posting maybe a percent or two up.” Some schools have even experienced decreases in their applicant pools.
Naming Mount Holyoke and Hampshire Colleges (both part of the five college cluster in and around Amherst, Mass.) as two of the only schools posting similar gains, Berson went on to say that it is the largest freshman applicant pool in Wheaton’s history.
Berson attributes the massive increase to three main initiatives undertaken by the college; the first is an advanced communications plan using catchier and more targeted digital and print media. “Students receive fantastic sets of messages from us that … really stand out. They’re unique, they’re intriguing, … [and] they speak directly to 17-year-olds, obviously in a pretty effective way,” Berson said.
The second factor in the application increase, she says, was increased relevancy for travel recruiting. While this meant pulling out of some previously frequented regions, it also meant that the counselors could focus more time in places with more interested students. “It was very tightly matched,” Berson said. “Where we had inquiries, we were visiting.”
The Admissions Office has also been working with a special consultant, who has been helping the admissions team increase the amount of overall interest in Wheaton by reaching out to more students and generating more initial inquiries. This, Berson says, was the third factor in the increased applicant pool.
Berson said she was optimistic from the beginning, but wanted to thank the admissions staff for their work during an application season that exceeded all of her expectations. “I certainly want to pay credit to the staff,” she said. “They are really the masterminds of making sure all of this stuff really happens.”