Denison: The decision that changes our lives

By Julie Tucker

Director of Research

Each year hundreds of thousands of high school seniors conclude the college search process by selecting the place where they hope to discover their interests passions, and goals, as well as build lasting friendships and begin preparing for professional success.

The decision can be difficult as colleges offer different academic and co-curricular experiences, range in student populations and prepare students for professional success to varying degrees. In August 2014, we asked entering first-years about the factors contributing to their decision to go to college in general and their decision to attend Denison in particular (Source: CIRP Freshman Survey 2014).

When deciding whether or not to attend college, Denison students look at different criteria. Nearly 85% of students stated that learning more about things that interest them was a “very important” reason, followed by obtaining a better job (82%), gaining a general education and appreciation of ideas (79%), making more money (67%), preparing for graduate school (62%), becoming more cultured (59%) and training for a specific career (53%).

Denison first-years’ decisions to attend college are more driven by post-collegiate success (job, money, graduate school) than students at comparison institutions. While 82% of Denison first-years cited the ability to get a job as a “very important” reason to go to college, the comparison data point is 77%. Similarly, the emphasis Denison students placed on making more money outpaced comparison schools (67% v. 58%) as did the focus on graduate school preparation (62% v. 57%).

Not only does this cohort’s focus on post-college success outpace similar institutions, it also exceeds what previous Denison cohorts have reported.  While 64% of Denison students stated that obtaining a better job was a “very important” reason to attend college in 2001, the number jumped to 82% in 2014.  Similarly, the importance of making more money grew between 2001 and 2014 (54% v. 67%), as did career training (42% v. 53%).  These increases occurred while non-career reasons remained mostly unchanged.

The survey also asked why our first-years chose to attend Denison.  Six reasons stood out: our excellent academic reputation (73%), financial aid (71%), a campus visit (63%), the jobs obtained by Denison graduates (59%), the small size of our campus (57%) and Denison’s reputation for social activities (49%).

These reasons reflect what we are proud of as Denisonians and align with what we value and cherish about this place. We have a dedicated faculty who teach and mentor students. We also  offer generous financial packages to our students. One campus visit has the power to captivate prospective students, instantly making them feel at home, and we know that Denison grads go on to pursue  rewarding careers and have a positive impact in society. 

Our size creates an extraordinary place to live and learn, a place where we have a voice; and we also know that involvement outside of the classroom (service, leadership, performance, student organizations) provides robust opportunities to build meaningful relationships and to develop valuable skills in critical thinking, communication, and teamwork.

The economy has changed, and public rhetoric frequently questions the return on investment for a college education. The national landscape and our data suggest students are selecting colleges with special attention on how institutions prepare graduates for success beyond college.

Our data show tremendous strength in this area, with 90% of students reporting that their decision to enroll at Denison was influenced by the jobs our grads obtain. This suggests that prospective families understand Denison’s deep commitment to positive post-collegiate outcomes for our graduates, which we document with transparency on our new Outcomes Webpage (www.denison.edu/the-denison-difference).

Aside from post-college outcomes, prospective students also select Denison because it’s a genuinely wonderful place to be. The words “friendly,” “fun,” “diverse,” “welcoming,” “beautiful,” “small,” “exciting,” “caring,” and “open” were used with great frequency.

Using various synonyms, many students described Denison as academically-strong and close-knit. Some of my other favorite descriptors include “aware,” “cozy,” “easy to make friends,” “empowering,” “extracurricular-loving,” “once in a lifetime experience,” “transformative” and “tedious topography.”  Perhaps because I am an alum myself, I find it striking that in their first days on campus, students understand who we are as a community.

Students’ reasons for choosing Denison and the words they use to describe Denison illustrate the special nature of our community. We are embarking on that time of year when high school seniors wander around campus, trying to discern if this is the place for them. 

We each have a lot to convey about who we are, what we offer and how this place has become our home. Don’t be afraid to tell prospective students why you love Denison. It might just be the beginning of their very own Denison story.