W&L’s Dean of Admissions says she’s not sweating 2015 stats

With a year at W&L under her belt, Sally Richmond said she is optimistic about W&L’s future

Katrina Lewis

Washington and Lee Dean of Admissions Sally Richmond said that 2015 was an abnormal year for the enrollment rate among students accepted to W&L – largely due to an equally unusual year for the University of Virginia’s (UVa).

Admissions data released by W&L’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness from 2015 shows a decrease in the percentage of students who accepted their spot at W&L during Regular Decision, down from 19 percent in 2014 to 13 percent in 2015. The data also shows that this trend led to more waitlist offers and a lower waitlist yield.

In a February 2015 Spectator article, “Admissions Data Suggests W&L Has a Ma keting Problem,” author Paul Lagarde, ‘16, wrote, “It appears that in 2015 Washington and Lee had some trouble convincing students under Regular Decision to actually enroll.”

But Richmond, who succeeded former dean of over 30 years Bill Hartog in the 2015-2016 school year, said she doesn’t have much reason to be alarmed.

“Paul is calling out the admission rate and the yield rate for obvious reasons based on that data, but the year that he was addressing was an anomalous year, and I can say that now that another year has passed,” Richmond said.

Richmond said that there were several reasons for admissions differences in 2015, but the most significant was the marketplace, and more specifically, that of UVa.

“Nothing lives in a vacuum, and we are prey to the whims of the market,” Richmond said. “In our world there’s one very big market—UVa.”

For example, Richmond said that because UVa took many students off its waitlist, associated schools like W&L followed a similar pattern.

“There’s a trickle down phenomena that occurs for almost every college with their waitlists,” Richmond said.

The same data set shows that W&L enrolled 47 percent of students given waitlist offers in 2015, when the university managed to enroll 75 percent of that group in 2013 and 2014. W&L also nearly tripled the number of students it accepted off the waitlist from 2014 to 2015, filling the Class of 2019 with 91 waitlisted students.

Lagarde and Richmond similarly emphasized, however, that the Class of 2019 is no less academically competitive, as its grades and standardized test scores are comparable to those of other classes.

Lagarde concluded his analysis of the 2015 admissions data by challenging Richmond during her first year as dean of admissions.

“I see it as a wonderful challenge with an incomparable product to share,” Richmond said about her position at W&L.

Richmond said that even when considering the numbers from 2015, W&L’s Regular Decision yield rate is on par with that of other similar universities.

“I want to stress, without any bias, that our regular decision yield rate is not uncommon of like schools,” Richmond said. “In fact its better its better than yield rates for a lot of colleges like us.”

“It is not uncommon for schools to have regular decision yield rates between 10 and 20 percent, and these are still very highly selective institutions.”

Richmond said students have layers of priorities that they are factoring into their consideration of several schools, which the data reflects, but cannot show.

The data also cannot show where accepted students are choosing to enroll over W&L. Richmond said that of the 2015 Johnson Scholarship recipients who chose not to attend W&L, the top four options were Yale, Dartmouth, Duke and MIT.

“It’s music to our Trustees’ ears because it shows that this is the company were keeping,” Richmond said about the schools accepted students are considering with W&L. “But would we want our regular decision yield rate to improve? Absolutely.”

Looking forward, Richmond said she is committed to ensuring that admissions is telling the W&L story as authentically and creatively as it can to as large of an audience as it can.

“If they’re looking at Washington and Lee, they’re students who are going to be successful wherever they choose to enroll,” Richmond said. “[Admissions] knows it’s our job to help them distinguish W&L and see their future here.”

The data set regarding admissions statistics for the Class of 2020 has not yet been released.