A Chat with Sewanee Admissions

Rebecca Cole 


With another year coming to a close, The Purple met with Sewanee Admissions in order to learn more about the incoming class and speak about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives in the application and admission process. 

When asked about the upcoming demographic cliff, Alan Ramirez, director of the Office of Admissions, elaborated on how it will affect the University admissions process. The demographic cliff is the predicted shrinking of the college-age population around 2025 due to the Great Recession in 2008. During the Great Recession, families were having fewer children because of the costs of childcare. So, in the coming years, universities around the country will see smaller incoming classes, with some estimates stating there to be a 15% drop in freshman enrollment nationwide by 2025. But what is also happening is an economic migration towards the southern states. “There are two parts to that [demographic] cliff,” Ramirez said, “the number of high school graduates in Tennessee is declining, but we attract students from across the nation.” This means that it will be harder to recruit a similar demographic of incoming class that Sewanee is used to, but that classes and the student body will hopefully not be drastically smaller for Sewanee. “The other part is [the University’s] market position,” he said, “so it’s not just rankings but it’s awareness [of Sewanee].” So an important part of recruitment will be marketing the University to students who will be applying to college in the next few years and might not already have an awareness of the University. 

Another aspect of this national demographic cliff is the predicted increase in BIPOC students attending college. Families who have the resources to pay for college education were often the ones having fewer children during the recession. Hispanic and Latinx families, African American families, and Asian families were still having similar numbers of children during the recession, which means that universities will see growth in these numbers of students. 

Faith Vaughn, assistant director of admissions, then explained how Sewanee works to foster DEI in the admission process. “My role, really, is to identify ways of how we can foster relationships with community-based organizations and folks in our communities and outside our communities.” 

“I partner with Sibby [Anderson-Thompkins, the vice provost of diversity, equity, and inclusion] and the DEI Office to think of ways, as our office is recruiting students of color, of how when they get to campus they can find resources.” Sewanee then promotes access to these resources through marketing communication, prospective Sewanee, and holding meetings with students and professors that look like them. The Admissions Office made a requirement two years ago that every brochure and publication from the Admissions Office has 50% representation of underrepresented minorities. Ramirez said he met with the 2021-2022 Student Government Association and they asked questions like “‘why would we do that when it is not an accurate representation?’” Ramirez said the main reason is that “if Sewanee is going to work to diversify each incoming class, we have to raise that visibility.” He said that if it didn’t work, he would scrap the project after four years, but it is already producing the results that the office wants to see. 

“We’re looking for those students who are going to do well here and who will be successful here,” Ramirez said. This year is the largest applicant pool that Sewanee has ever had with a current number of 5,732 applicants as of April 23, 2023. This is a 14.5% increase from last year’s number of applicants. The official acceptance rate usually hangs around 50% for Sewanee, but in the next few years, “we’ll probably see a two to three percent decrease, which is good,” because it highlights that it is challenging to get in and makes the University more desirable. 

During the recruitment process, Sewanee has a team of admissions staff with a territorial focus. Each individual regional staff member develops relationships with the schools and their curriculum and does research on schools that have not come through the applicant pool before. “And so the key there is understanding the context from which the student is applying from,” said Ramirez. Each application goes through a first reader, a second reader, and the admission committee. The readers look at the data that Sewanee has from each school and reviews the applications within their context and helps to make sure that Sewanee remains consistent in its admissions decisions. This process allows BIPOC students and first-generation students to be strong candidates in Sewanee’s admissions and helps Sewanee to diversify in the future.