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Class of 2020 sees all-time low acceptance rate

ELLEN SCHOENMAKER Only 18 percent of applicants to Grinnell were accepted in 2020, yet Admissions fell short of its enrollment goal.
Only 18 percent of applicants to Grinnell were accepted in 2020, yet Admissions fell short of its enrollment goal. Photo by Ellen Schoenmaker.

The class of 2020 experienced an all-time low acceptance rate, with only 18 percent of applicants being offered admission to the College. Despite this new accomplishment, the College did not meet its goal of having 440 students in the incoming class. Of admitted students, fewer chose to attend Grinnell College than in previous years.

Joe Bagnoli, the Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admissions, acknowledges that the acceptance rate “should have been higher. … If we [the admission committee] would have admitted enough students to hit our target of 440 entering students, our admission rate would have been higher.”

Bagnoli blames incorrect enrollment projections for the shortage of students. “Our projections suggested that a higher share of students we admitted would have accepted our offer of admission,” he said.

Bagnoli also attributes the lack of commitment from students to a changing applicant pool. Last year’s pool was the most qualified the school had ever had. “For the first time in our history, the regular decision high test average for the SAT exceeded 1400,” Bagnoli explains. Because prospective students were so accomplished, they likely had offers of admission from other, more selective, schools than Grinnell College.

“We weren’t anticipating that we were reaching a point where a smaller share of those students admitted would not accept our offers,” Bagnoli said.

To assemble a reasonably sized class, Grinnell College dipped into its international student wait list for the first time, which resulted in the class of 2020 having an unusually large population of international students.

For this year’s incoming class of 2021, the admissions committee plans to admit fewer international students to compensate for last year’s high percentage. The committee plans to accept a number of international students to create an overall student body comprised of 20 percent international students, a number high enough to attract attention from the Washington Post.

Grinnell has admitted more students from the early decision applicant pool for the class of 2021 than they did last year. Because early decision acceptances are binding, all students admitted will have to matriculate to the College, allowing the admissions committee to have a large chunk of its incoming class set before considering the regular decision applications.

Bagnoli insists that the shift towards admitting more early decision applicants has not affected the quality of the students admitted.

“If you look at the qualifications of the people who applied in early decision, there were more of them that we could go out to with offers of admission than last year,” he said.

Bagnoli believes the increase of early decision applicants is because of the declining acceptance rate, making Grinnell College appear more selective and pushing students to apply early to maximize their chances of getting in.

Yet, the number of applications submitted this year is down 20 percent — 5,800 applications— since last year. Bagnoli speculates that the decrease could be attributed to Iowa voting for Donald Trump for president, making the College and its surrounding area appear less attractive to prospective students.

However, Bagnoli said that he is not worried. Again, because of the College’s newfound selectivity, the students who are not qualified are deterred from applying, and thus make up a smaller portion of the applicant pool.

“Even though our applications are down across the board from last year to this year, they are down disproportionately among students with weaker credentials for admissions,” Bagnoli said. “The applications are stable among students with strong credentials for admission.”

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