College Admission Struggles

By: Annie Dineen

Every year, millions of high school seniors get let down and disappointed because their first choice for college rejected them. But this year, it looks like universities went above and beyond disappointing some of the most creative, talented, and hard-working individuals.

It is no secret that acceptance rates have dropped and that getting into college seems to bring more and more pressure to 12th grades over the years. However, the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic was mirrored in the uncertainty in every admissions office across the country.

When Covid-19 hit in March of 2020, most of last year’s seniors had some semblance of where they would be attending in the fall, with a handful of regular decision applications to be returned. But many factors had yet to be played out, including who would be able to come to campus. Tight travel restrictions ruled out international students from applicant pools rather quickly, leaving domestic spots to be filled. The number of applicants let off the waitlist and into the class of 2024 skyrocketed. However, accepted students everywhere deferred their admission until the fall of 2021 being that they would be attending college from their couch instead of on campus. Who can blame any of these students for wanting a normal college career?

I definitely sympathize for the high school seniors of 2020, with their lack of prom, graduation, and a million events in between. However, I can confidently say that the college admissions process for the high school class of 2021 was more complicated.

Starting with the backlash from the prior year, a good percentage of the number of open spots for the incoming freshman class were set aside for last year’s seniors who deferred a year. For example, out of all of the students admitted into Harvard University’s class of 2024, twenty percent decided to defer a year. Meaning, the amount of students Harvard can take for the class of 2025 reduced to 80 percent of the amount they normally take. Then we can take into account the need to counteract the loss of international students. Now that travel restrictions are lifted, international students are now able to study in the United States. If some colleges had 0% of their class of 2024 come from foreign countries, this means they will have to accept a lot more international students for their class of 2025 in order to compensate.

So, the amount of accepted domestic students will have to decrease, but what’s next? Well, the infamous SAT and ACT of course! They are tried and true rites of passage for high school juniors, or at least were, before last year. Now if I venture out of the world of Briarcliff for a minute, we can see how the absence of classic standardized tests have hurt this year’s seniors. While in Briarcliff Manor, and in most of Westchester County, where the pressure to get into a top twenty-five school entails taking the ACT and SAT no later than the winter of junior year (and in some cases sophomore year), the rest of the world works on a different schedule. The first time taking the test should be in the spring of eleventh grade, and the second time in the fall of twelfth grade (I can hear the helicopter parents gasping now, but that is considered an appropriate time). Starting in March of 2020, SAT and ACT testing centers closed at the drop of a hat, right along with test prep centers. To compensate for this loss, universities and colleges generously began informing the class of 2025 that applications would now be “test optional.” Meaning, one of the major parts of school’s holistic reviews of an application, was thrown out – but not completely. If you had a test score that you would like to share, then you could feel free to include it in an application and your application would be reviewed like it would have been in a normal year. However, there was no penalty if you did not have a test score or did not want to share it. So, you may be wondering, what is the issue here? It seems like a win-win for all applicants. But looking beyond the surface, this decision changed the fate of millions of students.

I will be picking a random, yet popular school for the following example: Syracuse University. Cuse’s average ACT test score ranges from a 26 to a 30. Now of course within every year there are outliers and many students with scores above and below, but that is the average that the school has chosen to publish. Now if I am a student with an ACT score of 24, previously I may not have considered Syracuse as one of the schools to which I will apply because of my low chances of acceptance being that my score is two points below the first quartile. But this year, they aren’t asking for a test score so yippee, I should just toss my hat into the ring anyway. Students who may have been underqualified for certain schools before basically said “why not?” And because no one knew which colleges would be having students back on campus in the fall, students decided to apply to a lot more universities to weigh their options after plans were finalized. It was this very attitude that flooded the application pools.

Brown University had a 26% increase in applicants. Tufts University had a 35% increase, Harvard University with 42%, and Colgate University with 103%. This more than doubles the amount of competition at Colgate.

I am sure there was some sort of lesson in this year, and I am sure that going the route of Early Decision would have bumped up the chances. But what I do know is that millions of high school seniors weren’t sporting the name of their dream school on their t-shirts on May 1. Waitlist decisions have yet to be returned, transferring is always an option, and so is simply taking a gap year or not going at all. This isn’t over. It is important to remember that everything will turn out the way it is supposed to. Good luck to the class of 2026 on their embarking in the crapshoot that is the college admissions process.

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