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Stu­dents visit with each other as they walk near Central Hall. | Facebook

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.”