Reflections on This Most Unusual Year in College Admissions

This has been a most unusual year in college admissions. 

  • Hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States went test optional – and a few test free.
  • The College Board dropped the essay portion of the SAT (about time) and Subject Tests (ditto).
  • Lots and lots of colleges were swamped with applications. Some schools were so swamped that the Ivy League has pushed back its regular decision notifications to today, and the University of Michigan has delayed notifications for the Ross School of Business to the middle of the month.

The result of this most unusual year in college admissions? Admission rates in some of the most selective schools have plummeted while the number of students on wait lists has soared. What does it all mean?

For starters, this most unusual year of college admissions means that students who would have gotten into certain schools last year did not get in this year. It means that students who would not have gotten into some schools if they had to send standardized test scores did get in. It means that admissions staffs had to look more closely at transcripts than they had in the past and understand changes in high school profiles, and they had to decipher circumstances due to Covid-19 that created a bevy of scenarios at high schools: remote learning – which worked fine for some students but was a disaster for others who just could not get comfortable in Zoom classrooms; hybrid learning – in school certain days or portions of certain days; cancellation of classes when a teacher or student tested positive. Plus, new efforts to discern new grading patterns: Some schools gave grades while others moved to Pass/Fail, while still others allowed students to decide whether to take a grade or a P in a class. 

So in this most unusual year, the jobs of admissions staffs became even more complex and time-consuming. Recommendations, which admissions staff members read closely, were also hard to come by for some students, and hard for teachers to write in the Covid era where they did not have regular classroom contact with students. Colleges had to re-evaluate the activities section of applications and to determine if and how students pivoted in terms of extracurricular activities, since so many, especially sports, could not and did not happen.

The message that is coming across from colleges during this most unusual year in college admissions is that standardized test scores are just not as important as they had been in the past. As one dean of admissions noted recently, not considering testing has forced colleges to look at everyone on a more even playing field, looking more at rigor – AP classes, for example, and their equivalent in schools that do not offer APs. 

For students, this most unusual year in college admissions means that they will find academically inclined and capable students at any number of institutions on their college lists. There is great teaching across this country, and students will find those great professors and a great education whether they are studying in the most selective schools in the US or not. 


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