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Inside the stressful job of a college admissions dean

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College applications are due this time of year, but students aren’t the only anxious ones. College admissions officers are under enormous pressure to fill enough seats, with the right kinds of students. That’s especially true at small colleges that depend on each and every tuition dollar. Many small colleges are facing declining enrollment amid a shrinking pool of applicants and questions about the value of expensive degrees.

“There’s probably not a day that goes by that I don’t feel like I’m carrying the survival of the college on my shoulders,” said Brigid Lawler, dean of admissions at Marlboro College in Vermont.

Marlboro is intentionally small, with 250 to 300 undergraduate students in a good year. This year the school has just 182.

“Every school is looking for that very limited commodity, which is that incoming class,” Lawler said. “It’s challenging, because how do you convince somebody when they’re 18 that coming to a school that’s never going to have more than 300 people, that’s on a hill in the middle of Vermont — rural Vermont — is going to be an amazing experience?”

To try to attract more students for next year, Marlboro is offering full scholarships to 52 incoming students — one from each state, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, at a cost of more than $2 million in the first year.

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