Despite the unprecedented challenges that come with managing admissions during a pandemic, this year’s applicant pool for William & Mary’s Class of 2025 is 23% higher than last year’s, totaling approximately 17,400 applications compared to 14,200 last year.
It is the first time applications for the undergraduate class has topped 15,000. It is also the first time admission programs for the new class, including tours and student interviews, were largely conducted virtually. COVID-19 forced Undergraduate Admission to completely reimagine its outreach, communications and recruitment efforts.
“As a result of the pandemic, this year brought with it unprecedented challenges and uncertainty,” said Tim Wolfe, associate vice president for enrollment and dean of admission. “Despite this, I am pleased to see that not only are our overall application numbers up but that they appear to be up somewhat consistently across the board.”
In addition to an overall increase, applications from first-generation students and students of color are also up by more than 20%, Wolfe said.
“To see such an exceptional, record-breaking applicant pool ensures that the Class of 2025 will be incredibly strong and diverse,” Wolfe said.
An unparalleled application cycle
Wolfe noted several internal and external influences that likely contributed to the growth in applications, including that William & Mary offered a test-optional application process for the first time this year. Additionally, he said it is possible with the pandemic and fewer opportunities for on-campus visits and tours that students simply submitted applications to more schools this year.
Also of potential influence, Wolfe added, was a deliberate and strategic approach by the Admission Office to expand digital outreach to high school seniors. He also noted that his team reimagined admission campaigns this year to convey a strong sense of place for students who could not travel to Williamsburg. This included working closely with a newly formed campus-wide team focused on enrollment marketing projects such as a new admission publication and an enhanced virtual tour experience.
Additional recent initiatives for the admission office include waiving application fees for all first-generation and all Pell-eligible applicants this year, a new partnership with the Posse Foundation that will make W&M the first university to be working with Posse in Virginia high schools, and the second year of fall pathway programs for waitlisted students seeking to enroll at W&M in the spring. These pathway programs include the option to enroll at a two-year college for the fall or pursue a credit-bearing international trip through Verto Education.
“Our focus is always to find students with the best potential to thrive here and strengthen the William & Mary community,” Wolfe said. “That doesn’t change even in this unparalleled application cycle.”
Pivoting during the pandemic
The pandemic definitely presented challenges, Wolfe said, noting that historically on-campus visits and in-person interviews have been central to William & Mary’s recruitment efforts.
“No question things were different this year,” Wolfe said. “We had to pivot. But we were able to implement some highly adapted online programming — virtual panels, virtual tours and information sessions — that enabled us to not only reach more prospective applicants but also more highly tailor that virtual experience for them.”
Admission offers for new students will go out in late March or early April for an anticipated entering class of just under 1,600 students.
“Given the added number of applications, we’ll be doing a lot of reading in the coming weeks with some extremely difficult decisions to make, but it’s a good problem to have,” Wolfe said.