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COVID’s IMPACT ON COLLEGE ADMISSIONS (and what you can do about it!)

This year is turning out to be one of the most competitive years in the history of college admissions, with all the top universities flaunting the record-breaking number of applications they have received. Columbia University’s applications rose by 49% over last year, Harvard’s applications increased by 57% for a smaller cohort, NYU’s applications have seen a rise of 20%, Colgate’s applications are up by a whopping 102% and the list goes on…

Do we expect this trend to continue going forward? Or is this an anomalous year? To answer these questions, we need to first understand the key factors that have contributed to these sky rocketing numbers:

1. With 1685+ colleges and universities going test optional/test blind for the fall intake of 2021, applicants who were initially hesitant to apply to top-tier schools because their scores did not ‘match-up’, were now able to apply unhindered.

2. Since students were unable to physically visit college campuses this past year, on average, they ended up applying to a greater number of colleges to hedge their bets. In fact, Jenny Rickard, President and CEO of Common App disclosed that there has been a 9% increase in the application per applicant ratio.

3. Since most extra-curricular activities were cancelled or went virtual in the first quarter of last year, students discovered that they had more time on their hands. Consequently, they began working on their applications earlier which explains the dramatic growth in ED and EA applications specifically. Binding ED applications rose by 23% at UPenn and 22% at Brown. And restrictive early action applications rose by 38% at Yale.

4. And lastly, an increase in the number of students who opted to take a gap year last year contributed to the mounting avalanche of applications this year.

Consequently, College Admission Officers have been overwhelmed and it is no surprise that many colleges have deferred early round applications to regular rounds. In fact, Harvard went on record to say that they deferred approximately 80% of their restrictive early action pool.

So back to our question: Is this trend going to continue? The good news is that many colleges are hopeful about inviting prospective students to campus in the Summer/Fall and this will give students the confidence to ‘seal the deal’ and not apply to extra colleges. On the other hand, given that several colleges have extended their test optional policies recently (Harvard, Columbia, Cornell and UPenn will be test optional for one more year), students will continue to apply in droves. I therefore expect this trend to continue for at least another year.

What does this mean for our high school students? Here is my advice:

Current Seniors:

  • Sit tight and wait patiently to hear back from colleges – even if they are taking longer than usual to respond. Don’t overwhelm them with emails and phone calls to ask about your admissions status. Trust that they are doing their best and will respond soon.

  • Don’t let ‘Senioritis’ sink in as yet. Keep your grades up. The admissions team is still watching and will in fact focus on your grades when the time comes to reevaluate your application.

  • Be prepared to write strong letters of continued interest in case your application has been deferred. And here is another tip while you are doing so: if the college is still your number one choice, make sure you let them know that if admitted, you are going to enroll. This will provide them with some certainty and may be exactly what you need to swing the decision in your favor.

  • If the college allows for it, send in additional documents (like an additional letter of recommendation) to support your application.

  • And lastly, be ready to pivot in case admission outcomes are not in your favor. Reconsider your target and safety colleges with a fresh perspective. Remember, getting deferred or rejected is not a reflection on you but rather that the university did not have space in their class to admit you, even if they liked you.

  • If you are really not happy with your college options, consider applying to a few more universities. While many top colleges have received a surge of applications, some smaller colleges are still struggling to fill their seats and are in fact, pushing out their deadlines to do so.

Current Juniors:

  • Focus on your grades in high school. Two weeks ago, College Board announced that they would eliminate the optional essay portion of the SAT as well as their subject tests. Moreover, over half of all 4-year colleges have already declared that they will be test optional for the fall of 2022. In the absence of these application components, you can be sure that admissions teams are going to examine your high school courses, grades and essays with a magnifying lens.

  • Look for ways to differentiate yourself either through an internship, passion project, research position etc.

  • Start the college search process NOW. If there is one thing that the pandemic has taught us, it is to make the most of the present because you don’t know what is in store for you tomorrow.

  • Block multiple test dates for standardized tests – in case a particular test gets cancelled. And yes, I am still encouraging my students to take these tests because a higher test score may not only help you in the admissions process, but also it is often a basic requirement if you want to be considered for merit aid.

Current Freshman and Sophomores:

  • You will be a junior before you know it! Start paying attention to which subjects you like in high school and which careers sound interesting. Is there a related passion project that you would like to start?

  • And of course, focus on your grades in high school. That is of utmost importance.

For a more detailed breakdown on what you should be doing in each year of high school, you can request for a free roadmap. Good luck!

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