A record all-time high of 6,409 prospective students applied for a spot in Occidental’s class of 2020; of these, the Office of Admission admitted nearly 45 percent. This breaks a steadily declining trend in applicants since 2012, when 6,134 students applied. Last year, there were just 5,911 applicants.
While the number of applicants is higher than usual, the admittance rate also increased from years past. Vince Cuseo, vice president for admission and financial aid, attributed this rise to the increased academic talent of the applicant pool. In order to yield the ideal class size of 530 to 535 students, the Office of Admission works backward to predict the percentage of admitted students who will matriculate. This year’s anticipated matriculation rate is lower due to applicants’ increased qualifications; Cuseo thinks that although it is good that a greater number of gifted students are applying to Occidental, it also means that they likely have more college options, which negatively affects the chances that they will choose Occidental over other schools.
“Trying to predict the behavior of thousands of students and families to reach a nearly exact target is risky business,” Cuseo said via email.
Occidental peer institution Claremont McKenna College is experiencing a similar phenomenon, needing to admit a greater number of students overall in order to yield the target class size. Although its applicants increased from 5,518 in 2013 to 7,156 in 2015 and the college admittance rate has remained roughly 11 percent, its yield — the students who choose to enroll at the college — has dropped from 52.1 to 43.8 percent, according to the school’s website.
In contrast, another peer school, Pitzer College, has experienced an increased yield rate since 2010, resulting in greater selectivity. In 2010, Pitzer accepted 26 percent of its applicants and yielded 27 percent, the school’s website said; in 2014, the school accepted 13 percent and yielded 45 percent. According to Jamila Everett, Pitzer’s interim vice president of admission and financial aid, the school has not had to admit a great number of students in order to yield the ideal class size.
Since this process of admission and subsequent matriculation is so difficult to predict, Occidental often ends up with a class size that is either slightly smaller or larger than intended. In 2015, 518 students matriculated — 12 below the target of 530. The year prior, there were 546 matriculants.
Although slight variations in class size are insignificant, severely under- or over-enrolling an incoming class could result in a loss of revenue or a severe taxing of resources, respectively, according to Cuseo. Matthew Cecconi (senior), a senior student fellow at the Office of Admission, said that such under- or over-enrollment has not occurred in recent years.
“The capacity to accurately predict incoming classes is perhaps Admission’s most critical responsibility,” Cuseo said via email.
According to Cuseo, the reputation of a college and the perceived quality of the student experience are major factors in determining a school’s popularity. Cecconi agreed that the academic and social reputation of a college can sway prospective students. He also cited outside input as a factor — for example, that of parents, guidance counselors and teachers — as well as the unquantifiable factor of fit: how a student feels about a given school. Financial aid and costs, according to Cecconi, also affect a student’s decision.
Occidental has a reputation as an established liberal arts school in Southern California, according to Cecconi, and is unique from other liberal arts colleges with its urban campus. The Office of Admission capitalizes on this strength by presenting students as the face of the college whenever possible. Students’ individual experiences are more compelling than any statistic, Cecconi said, which is why students are heavily involved in the Office of Admission as tour guides, interns and senior fellows.
Although college rankings place Occidental slightly lower than peer institutions, such as the Claremont colleges, Cecconi stresses that rankings should be merely a starting point in a student’s search for the school that best suits them. Lists such as those compiled by U.S. News that rank colleges according to statistics such as acceptance rate, first year retention rate and graduation rate do not provide prospective students with the full picture.
“I would really hope that students are putting more into [their college search] than what other people have to say [about a given school],” Cecconi said.
Occidental’s student body, diverse in both background and interests, results from the Office of Admission’s holistic and thorough application review process — every application is read twice. Cecconi emphasized that students are evaluated as individuals rather than as statistics. He said that as the college application process becomes increasingly cutthroat nationwide, students become involved in an increasing number of extracurriculars in high school in an attempt to set themselves apart. But to Occidental’s admissions officers, there is no hierarchy of extracurriculars; no one activity is more esteemed than any other. Instead, they value what is important to the student.
“As long as you’re able to talk about why you’re doing whatever activities you’re doing, that’s a good thing,” Cecconi said.
To establish baseline academic standards would be to limit the number of qualified prospective students — something that the Office of Admission tries to avoid, according to Cecconi. They value academic rigor as evidence that students are challenging themselves in high school, but do not put too much stock in standardized test scores.
“The Office [of Admission] realizes that [standardized tests are] four hours of your life versus four years [of high school],” Cecconi said. “They don’t want to hold that against you.”