Admission to the college in its earliest days was a personal encounter between the prospective student and the president. Solomon Drowne of the class of 1773, in an entry in his diary for June 30, 1770, described his examination by President Manning and tutor David Howell, which consisted of five verses in the Greek Testament, seven lines in Cicero’s Orations, and five lines in Virgil’s Georgics, after which he was pronounced fit to enter, which he did two days later. The Laws of 1783 prescribed that “No person may expect to be admitted into this College, unless ... able to read accurately construe and parse Tully and the Greek Testament, and Virgil; and ... able to write true Latin in prose, and hath learned the rules of Prosody and Vulgar Arithmetic; and shall bring suitable Testimony of a blameless life & conversation.” In 1826 the question of age arose in the requirement that an applicant must have completed his fourteenth year, and at this time, in addition to the usual classical attainments the person “must also be acquainted with ancient and modern Geography, Arithmetic, and English Grammar.” The Catalogue for 1828-29 added the requirement of “Algebra, as far as Quadratick Equations.” A significant change occurred in 1850 with the introduction of Wayland’s “New System.” While candidates for the Bachelor or Master of Arts degree were examined in the same subjects as previously, candidates for the Bachelor of Philosophy degree were not examined in the Ancient languages nor in Ancient Geography, and students who were not candidates for a degree were examined “only so far as to ascertain their ability to pursue the studies of the class or classes which they propose to enter.”
Applicants continued to be examined in Greek, Latin, mathematics, and English (geography fell by the wayside in 1874) with the addition of French in 1876 and German (as an alternative to French) in 1891. Two new policies regarding admission were added in 1892. Students from schools of known excellence could be admitted without examination, and all members of the freshman class, however admitted, were on probation until the beginning of second term. In 1902 Brown joined seven other colleges in the formation of the New England College Entrance Certificate Board for the purpose of approving secondary schools from which students could enter by certificate. The first year that the CECB examination was substituted for Brown’s entrance examination was 1905. In 1915-16 students could be admitted at both the beginning and the middle of the academic year to accommodate midwinter graduates of secondary schools. Since most of the university courses were a year long, the complete course could be arranged so that a degree might be earned in either three and one-half or four years. In 1916 the entrance requirements for the Bachelor of Science degree were eased by making physics or chemistry optional as a prerequisite, and allowing the substitution of an ancient language for a modern language. The change made it possible for students from high schools which had only a classical college preparatory course to enroll for the Sc.B. degree.
A requirement that freshman take psychological tests before admission was adopted in 1922. President Faunce pointed out in his annual report, “The psychological tests, while very far from infallible and never possible as a substitute for examinations, are of great value as a supplement to examinations and a clue to the proper treatment a student should receive. The real difficulty is that we have as yet no tests of character.” A new policy adopted in 1927 specified that only students in the upper fifth of their high school classes could be admitted by certificate. All others would take entrance examinations. At the same time attendance at a series of orientation lectures offered by the Admission Office was required of freshmen. Also in 1927 the admission of women, which had long been handled by the University Registrar, was turned over to the newly-appointed Director of Admission and Personnel of the Women’s College, Eva A. Mooar. In 1934 each alumnus received a copy of the latest edition of Student Life at Brown, the publication for prospective students, with the request of President Barbour that the booklet be placed in the hand of a promising applicant, preferably one for the next fall. The president was enlisting the alumni in the Alumni Co-operative Admissions Program under the auspices of the Associated Alumni in a drive to provide a quantity of applicants to improve the selection process and the quality of the student body. The aims of the admission policy were: 1) a large number of candidates with scholastic ability and capacities for potential leadership; 2) applicants from all parts of the country with different economic and social backgrounds; and 3) a number of applicants able to meet their college expenses without financial aid from the University. Brown Clubs organized committees to help with this program. In 1948 the eight institutions of the Ivy Group made an agreement that applicants would have until June 15 to accept admission regardless of the date of notification of acceptance, thus making it easier for the student to select a college after hearing from all of them. In 1961 the Ivy League institutions issued a joint statement of admission policies.
In January 1963 Brown announced the receipt of a $155,000 grant from the Ford Foundation for an unusual experiment in the admission of “academic risks,” to be conducted over a seven-year period. President Keeney said the University was already admitting a number of students who were not objectively qualified, but who had strong desirable characteristics. A study was undertaken to discover, through a survey of the success in life of graduates of the early 1950s, why many with poor secondary school records succeed, and to use this information as new criteria for admission. To test the criteria four freshman classes of whom 10 per cent were “risks” would be admitted and their progress followed. Time magazine reported this development with an accompanying photograph of President Keeney under the heading “Tom Sawyer at Brown,” quoting an unnamed Brown official who said, “Thus do the Lord and Barnaby Keeney provide for the Tom Sawyers of the land.” A telegram for Keeney a few days later read, “Thanks for giving Tom Sawyer a break. (signed) Huck.” The Providence Journal chose for its misleading headline, “Brown Seeks Unqualified Students.”
Charles H. Doebler IV, director of admission, reported on the findings of the study in 1970. The adopted identification of a “risk” was a student whose Scholastic Aptitude Verbal test score was below 500. After 1966, the score was adjusted to 620, a respectable score, to be sure, but an able student is still a risk when he competes against those of even higher ability. Defining “success” boiled down to three criteria, graduation from college, an advanced degree, and reputation of success. Observations were that an apparent “risk” with less than acceptable SAT scores can be less of a risk, when there are other considerations such as enthusiastic comments from the secondary school, a background in which parental education and good schools are assets, and participation in extracurricular activities. Conclusions were that objective tabulation of the information gathered in the study supported earlier subjective decisions (hunches) of admission officers, that the over-achievers who test poorly are good risks, applicants with good scores and not so good records are not, and the best indicators of long-term success before admission are the environmental factors, and after admission are the first semester grades.
In 1972 forty freshmen on the deferred admission plan chose to take a year off before beginning their studies. A new emphasis on attracting transfer students resulted in the admission of more than one hundred in 1972, compared to twenty the year before. In 1973 the eight Ivy League colleges and M.I.T. agreed on common admission procedures including an early evaluation of applicants and non-binding notification of their likelihood of acceptance. The colleges also agreed on a common date for sending notifications of acceptance or rejection. Prospective students who elected early decision, on accepting admission in December, would withdraw applications to all other colleges.
Even as applications for admission soared, something of the personal touch remained. One student, Daniel Snyder, admitted to the Class of 1979, came highly recommended in a letter from none other than renowned Professor Josiah Carberry (q.v.). In 1974 seven of the 9,441 applicants, all high scorers on Latin proficiency tests, received their letters of acceptance in Latin in the style of Cicero, written by classics professor John Rowe Workman. In 1979 the Brown Alumni Monthly proclaimed Brown the “most popular private competitive college in the country,” with 11,400 applications for admission, a twenty-five per cent increase in two years. In 1980 when applications for admission reached 11,900, it was possible to accept only 2,500 students in order to end up with a freshman class of 1,275. The use of Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores as one of the factors in admission was challenged by students in 1987 in a referendum recommending that the SAT be an optional requirement. The referendum sponsored by a group called Students Against Testing was defeated by the faculty by a narrow margin of fourteen votes.
Emery R. Walker was Dean of Admission from 1946 to 1957, and was followed by Lloyd W. Cornell, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid in 1957-58 and Director of Financial Aid from 1958 to 1969, Charles V. Doebler, Director of Admission from 1958 to 1969, and for the women students, Eva A. Mooar from 1947 to 1953, Alberta F. Brown from 1954 to 1970. The separate offices of admission and financial aid merged in July 1987. Alan P. Maynard, who had been Director of Financial Aid since 1974, retired in 1987; James H. Rogers, who had been Director of Admission since 1969, resigned in 1988; and Eric Widmer was named Dean of Admission and Financial Aid.