Applications for Hillsdale College’s class of 2025 are up 56% from last year, according to preliminary data from the admissions office. It’s the biggest increase the college has seen in at least seven years.
One reason for the leap in applications, according to Senior Director of Admissions Zack Miller, is how the college has handled itself through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Because we stayed open as long as we did and have been one of the few colleges to buck the trend of closing or at least taking some sort of hybrid scheduling approach, I think a lot of students have seen that,” Miller said. “They’ve wanted that certainty, so they’ve been attracted to Hillsdale for that reason.”
Another explanation, Miller said, is that the college has essentially operated normally since June.
“We’ve been able to safely welcome students to campus pretty continuously since June, and families are so appreciative of the opportunity,” he said. “When making the decision to go to college, you want to be on campus, you want to meet the people, you want to see and feel what it’s like. And we knew that if we’re going to have a successful year and get the right students to come to Hillsdale, we were going to have to figure out a way to get them to campus.”
When families couldn’t come to campus, admissions counselors went to them.
“We’re one of the only colleges that we know of that conducted a fall travel season,” Miller said. “We did it very safely and we did it the right way, but we wanted to make sure we were still able to go out into all parts of the country and meet with those families and those students who wanted to learn more about Hillsdale but couldn’t necessarily make the trip over here.”
A third reason, Miller suspects, is that Hillsdale decided to make standardized test scores an optional component of the application due to the challenges imposed by the pandemic.
“I think there are a lot of students who decided to apply who might’ve been held back by that requirement in the past,” he said. “They thought they might have a better shot this year.”
But while the college isn’t requiring test scores, Miller emphasized that Hillsdale’s admission standards and the kind of students it seeks remains the same. Admissions counselors are putting more weight on other indicators of academic success: students’ GPA, class curriculum, the rigor of their high school courses, and their quality of writing.
“In terms of finding the right fit for Hillsdale College, we’re absolutely using the same mechanisms that we’ve had in the past,” he said. “It’s just that we have to go through more applications and use a finer-tooth comb to find the best group that we’re able to admit. We’re looking for that group that is the strongest in all areas of their application.”
Despite the increased interest, applicants seem to be genuinely interested in Hillsdale College and not just in-person classes, according to Matthew Sauer, assistant director of Ohio and Indiana recruitment.
“Even if they initially want us because we’re in person, they come around to thinking more deeply about what it is they want out of college,” he said.
While the admissions staff won’t know until the fall exactly how many of the students who have applied will be admitted, Sauer predicts that about a quarter of this year’s applicants will receive acceptance letters.
Kelly Kane, director of West Coast recruitment, has two pieces of advice for high school students preparing to apply to Hillsdale and anxious about their chances of being admitted: apply by the Jan. 1 priority deadline and complete an admissions interview.
“I would strongly encourage applicants to take both of those steps,” Kane wrote in an email. “And as always, it is really important that you carefully proofread your essays not only for what message you’re delivering and how, but also why. What the admissions office is looking for has not changed, but we are putting more thought into exactly how each applicant will contribute to and benefit from Hillsdale. It has to be the right, mutual fit.”
As for whether the surge in applications will continue to climb in years to come, Miller said that’s anyone’s guess.
“That’s the million dollar question,” he said. “We’re not sure what next year is going to look like. This year has been so unlike any other year it’s hard to predict the future.”