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Reflections on an "unpredictable" admissions cycle

Like everything this year, college admissions was completely different. Recently I was on a zoom call with 150 of my colleagues and the one word that kept coming up was "unpredictable". College admissions has never been an exact science. A lot of the application process can be very subjective. However, there have typically been criteria that would give a student a good indication of how competitive they are for a particular institution. GPA, test scores, rigor of academics, etc. This year in particular has been the most competitive, especially for highly selective schools. There are several reasons that contributed to this phenomenon. Schools adopting test-optional policies, virtual college engagement and previous class deferrals.

As mentioned above, highly selective schools were incredibly affected by a dramatic increase in applications. The Common Application saw an 11% increase in applications. This number was not a reflection of more students using the app but students applying to more colleges.

As admission decisions started to come in, there were some clear indications of what was important this admissions cycle.

  1. Grades - With most schools adopting test-optional policies, grades became that much more significant. This became the way that colleges could evaluate a student's academic strengths.

  2. Academic Rigor - With the increase in applications, admissions officers were paying particular attention to a student's courses. Was that student challenging themselves and taking advantage of the courses offered at their high school?

  3. Demonstrated Interest - With such an increase in applications, colleges had a hard time determining yield (the percentage of students that say yes to an offer of admission). Students that attended virtual events, sent emails, called admission offices with genuine interest were noted. Skipping this step can greatly impact a student's application.

  4. Commitment - The students that demonstrated commitment to an interest really stood out. Especially this year, with so many activities cancelled, students that were able to find ways to remain engaged or develop new creative ways to engage caught admissions officers eyes.

  5. Authenticity - Colleges were looking for students who could tell their own story in their authentic voice. It can become quite clear how engaged a student is in the application process by the level of authenticity in their application.

Finally, as more and more admission decisions came in, there were a number of decisions that didn't seem to make sense. This was really difficult for a number of students and families. Especially after a year that had already been so difficult. However, as kids often do, they have impressed me with their resilience. They embraced the schools where they were accepted and had to let go of unmet expectations. Which is exactly why it is so important to create that balanced list of schools for students. As we move forward, we will continue to help students create a well balanced list of schools and to make sure they would be happy to attend any school on their list.

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