BRUNSWICK — Applications for Bowdoin College this year grew for the first time in three years while applications dropped slightly at some other selective liberal arts colleges in Maine.
Bowdoin received 3,351 applications — an 8 percent increase — for 410 spaces in the freshman class, said Richard Steele, dean of admissions. Last year, 3,081 students applied.
“The national trend is for schools to be down. We were pleased to run against that,” Steele said.
At the same time, applications were down 2 percent at Bates College in Lewiston and 4 percent at Colby College in Waterville, officials at those schools said.
Parker Beverage, Colby’s dean of admissions and financial aid, said a sour economy probably discouraged qualified students from applying to colleges like Bowdoin and Colby, which cost more than $20,000 per year to attend.
But Beverage said he’s impressed with the students who did apply. Their test scores are higher than last year, and they come from a wider geographic area, he said.
“It promises to be a challenging year,” he said, “but I think we’ll end up with a really good class.”
During an era of fewer high school-age students, colleges everywhere are trying new approaches to lure prospective students.
All three colleges admitted students under the early decision program that allows students to apply to their first-choice college in November and receive early notification of acceptance.
Bates admitted 40 percent of its incoming freshman class through early decision, said Wylie Mitchell, director of admissions.
Bowdoin went one step further, adding a second deadline for early-decision applications in January. Steele believes that contributed to the sharp increase in early-decision candidates.
Steele, who previously directed admissions at Duke University and Carleton College, took a new approach last year by contacting prospective students while they were still juniors in high school.
The staff visited major cities across the country with other schools, like Brown and Washington universities and Oberlin College. They held receptions across the country for students who expressed interest in Bowdoin, Steele said.
“We spent a lot of time trying to discover an effective way of describing our academic programs,” he said.