In March 2020, schools began closing because of COVID-19. Since then, the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the education of millions of high school and college students. Colleges, universities, and high schools alike have had to adapt, and many of these adaptations will likely have long-term effects on the future of education. As we reach the end of the school year, we take the time to reflect on what we have learned.
Lesson 1: Test-optional policy changes the playing field. Most colleges suspended testing requirements this year, and many students took advantage. While it is difficult to completely discern if the test optional policy change was wholly responsible for more applicants identifying as first-generation, low-income, rural, African-American, Hispanic, and/or Latinx students, the short-term success in creating more diverse and equitable admissions is undeniable. These results indicate that a permanent test-optional policy could create more equity in admissions. The advisors at International College Counselors worked closely with families determining to which colleges students should submit their test scores, and to which colleges scores should be withheld. These decisions were very strategic. Since many colleges will be test-optional next year as well, we will continue advising our families on a school-by-school basis.
Lesson 2: Colleges are looking to diversify their student body. The Class of 2025 will be one of the most diverse classes ever at many schools. At Princeton, nearly 25% of students admitted this year were first-generation (children of parents who did not have a bachelor’s degree). And, more than 66% of the U.S. citizens or permanent residents who were admitted identified as people of color, including biracial and multiracial persons. First generation students at Harvard will represent approximately 21% of the Class of 2025, with more than 60% identifying as people of color.
Lesson 3: College costs are out of control. This year’s seniors changed how they applied and where they applied. Students included more in-state colleges to avoid both long-distance travel and having to pay private college costs for online classes. College expenses continue to rise, with some colleges’ tuition, room and board, and fees now exceeding $81,000 per year. Doing research is more important than ever to find colleges that meet family needs with a range of price points, locations, and selectivity.
Lesson 4: If financially possible, apply Early Decision. Because of the pandemic, colleges faced staggering financial losses. One way that colleges eased this pressure was to accept even more students during the Early Decision rounds. Students applying ED are committed to attend that school if they are admitted, which means that often, students who need to compare financial aid among schools do not apply ED. Though this is not “fair,” it is still true that Early Decision almost always gives students an advantage. This year proved that more than ever.
Lesson 5: Don’t waste your Early Decision. Many students apply to their reach schools for Early Decision. As students can only apply to one school Early Decision, families should strongly consider focusing on a realistic reach rather than an impractical one. The odds of getting in during the early round are higher, but, as seen this year especially, it’s not an opportunity to waste. Moreover, if a student is not accepted Early Decision I, they should consider Early Decision II at a different college.
Lesson 6: More applications result in long waitlists. One result of the surge in applications was that colleges had a more difficult time predicting their yield – the percentage of admitted applicants who actually enroll. Colleges will continue to rely on waitlists as a way to hedge against over-enrollment and to determine student interest. We do expect that colleges will be going to their waitlists! If you have been waitlisted and do not know what to do, please reach out to one of our expert college advisors for help.
Lesson 7: The list of ultra-competitive and competitive colleges expanded. Many, many more colleges in the United States are showcasing acceptance rates at 25% or lower. Schools that were once considered “easy” to get into are only accepting students at the top of their classes. Students aiming for these top colleges must do well in rigorous courses, and find ways to stand out in the admissions process. That said, a college’s selectivity does not reflect its quality nor whether it’s a good fit for your student.
Lesson 8: School lists should and must expand. With acceptance rates in the single digits for some schools, students need to both diversify and expand their lists. We did not see many students who got into numerous top colleges. This year, our top applicants were happy if they got into 1-3 of the exceptionally competitive colleges.
Lesson 9: Vaccination requirements are trending. More U.S. colleges are requiring students to get the COVID vaccine before returning to campus. Rutgers announced in late March that vaccinations will be required, and now several other schools, including Cornell, Brown, Syracuse, Northeastern, and Notre Dame have made similar announcements. Colleges will be releasing more information over the summer, and we expect to see this trend continue. Students going to college in the fall must know their school’s policies.
Lesson 10: You are not alone. Students and families around the world are experiencing feelings of frustration surrounding the unprecedented admissions environment this year. Colleges, too, feel the stress. Have a younger student? Consider a college counselor–we’ll keep you sane while staying ahead of NEXT year’s trends.