Reflections on the Admission Decisions of Highly Selective Colleges | James Wickenden | 10 Min Read

June 23, 2022

Having served as the Dean of Admission at Princeton University from 1978 to 1983, I learned enough about the admission policies and practices of a selective institution of higher education to write annual statements that were published in the Princeton Alumni Weekly. I was motivated to do so because I wanted to inform the Princeton alumni, especially those who volunteered their time to interview candidates from their respective geographical regions. I also wanted to pass my thoughts on to the college counselors across the country who had the unenviable but important job of advising the students at their respective schools about the factors that contributed to whether or not a candidate would likely be admitted. 


Even though the college admission landscape has become more complicated in the last four decades, my interest in the policies and practices of highly selective colleges and universities has not changed. The many changes in admissions at Princeton are as follows: 

  • The applicant pools have increased significantly. During my last year as Dean, Princeton received approximately 12,000 applications. In the 2021-22 academic year, the number skyrocketed to 37,601. This phenomenon was not unique to Princeton. 
  • While the number of applications increased almost four-fold, the available spaces in the entering class increased only marginally. 
  • As a result, the percentage of those admitted to Princeton went into free fall, declining from 18 percent in 1983 to 3.98 percent in 2022. 
  • It is also significant that the composition of the applicant pool changed significantly. For example, the number of women applying to Princeton increased annually and recently outnumbered the men who applied. Affirmative Action also resulted in a significant uptick in applications from people of color to independent, well-endowed universities. This, in turn, resulted in increased representation in the incoming freshman class of Blacks, Latinx candidates, and AAPIs. Combined with admits from 164 different countries, 68 percent of the Class of 2026 at Princeton is composed of people of color. Given the significant uptick in the number of women who enrolled at Princeton, the job responsibilities of the Director of Athletics became more complicated as requests were made to add more varsity teams for those women who wanted to continue their athletic pursuits. Currently, there are 38 varsity teams, the most recent addition being women’s rugby. As a result, the Director of Athletics and the Dean…
Register Now
You may use your member school or partner discount code !!!

Jim Wickenden

Jim is a Principal at DRG and Founder of Wickenden Associates, an affiliate of DRG. Having been the CEO of one of the premier education executive search firms in the United States, Jim brings unparalleled experience and networks to best serve clients. With over 30 years of experience identifying and guiding Heads of Schools and other senior administrators of schools across the country, Jim approaches each search with flexibility and openness that responds to the individual needs and concerns of schools and their leaders. Before founding Wickenden Associates, Jim served as the Dean of Admissions at Princeton University and Director of Student and Alumni Affairs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A graduate of Tabor Academy and Princeton University, Jim holds a master’s degree in Counselor Education from Rutgers University, a master’s degree in the General Purposes of Education from Harvard University, and a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Boston University. As a former member of eight boards of independent schools with a wide range of missions and resource levels, Jim also knows firsthand the responsibilities shouldered by today’s trustees; and knows how to guide boards through tough transition processes and on good governance practices. Jim lives in Princeton, NJ, and when he is not at the office he enjoys reading enlightening books.