It’s Been a Rough Year.

application spike
Wall Street Journal reporter Melissa Korn reported on huge application spikes at Ivy League universities in their early admission rounds.

You don’t need us to tell you…’s been a heck of a year.

And if you have a high school senior, it may get worse before it gets better.

We’re not talking about COVID here.  We’re talking about college admissions (because that’s all our team thinks about – all day, every day).  We’re starting to get information from the colleges.  And the numbers are pointing in one direction:  March is going to bring some bad news.

This is an admission cycle like none before.  By last April, when several rounds of SAT and ACT exams had been cancelled, colleges realized the extent of the disruption was going to be big, and many of them made the decision to go test-optional.  Students who had strong test scores submitted them!  But those who weren’t able to test, or who had scores they weren’t happy with, were able to apply to pretty much every college in the country without test scores.

Test scores are usually the one application component that encourages a good number of students to self-select out of throwing their hats in the ring for top-ranked schools. Without that regulator (some would call it a barrier), the Class of 2021 went wild.

Harvard’s early action (the non-binding one) applicant pool was up 57% this yearTufts’ pool is up 35% overall, with Arts & Sciences applications up over 37%.  Duke University’s early decision (the binding one) applications were up nearly 18%, and understandably, the admission office announced that their admit rate will decline.  MIT admitted less than 5% of the students who applied early action, with an applicant pool over 60% higher than last year.  The list goes on.

So what do these numbers mean – for the class of 2021 and beyond?

We can’t tell you the results until we see them – but it’s clear that college admission rates at the colleges with the most well-known names – the ones with single-digit admit rates already – are going to dip this year.  More than ever, students with balanced lists and balanced expectations will likely see good news, and those who submitted only to top colleges, or with a lopsided list because they threw in applications “just to see what would happen,” will be disappointed in the results of that strategy.

Will every college see an increase in their applications?  Probably not.  Almost definitely not.  In fact, every year, many colleges continue to allow seniors to apply through May – which has been the “candidate reply date” – the date by which seniors are supposed to make their decisions and place their enrollment deposits – because many colleges do not hit their enrollment goals each year (yes, colleges are businesses!).  But more than ever, this will not be true for highly ranked and well-known “name” colleges this year.

For the Class of 2022, we don’t know which colleges will continue to be test-optional, and we don’t know if next year’s applicants will treat the test-optional respite the same way this year’s students did – but it wouldn’t be surprising.

The best advice we can give, then, is to apply to a balanced list of colleges.  Don’t put all of your eggs, or all of your hopes, into one basket.  Some reach, some target, some safe.  Do deep research.  Make sure to love ALL of the colleges on your list!  If you need some help researching colleges, here’s our short video to help, and here’s our checklist to help you keep track of what you learn when you research college websites:

For our students and parents in California, we have a different problem, which was compounded by COVID and the UC system going test-optional this year.  That’s the topic of the next blog post.

Until then, if you need help getting started with your son or daughter’s college search and application process, feel free to get in touch.  Our job is to help you maintain your sanity, and help your child enjoy the introspective process of finding the college that fits them best, where they’ll be happy and successful.

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