College Admit Rates Are Down Where We Thought They’d Be Down

If you have news alerts set to track articles on college admissions (that’d be me!), you’re likely seeing articles like this one published today in The Wall Street Journal or this one published on Monday in Inside Higher Ed. What do you need to know? At the most selective of colleges and universities in the United States, admit rates have plummeted to ridiculously low levels, in some cases below 5%. Here is an early analysis of some two dozen college admit rates this year compared to last:

Now, while you will hear news of “extraordinary admit rate drops,” the fact of the matter is many of these schools had low rates to begin with. Further, coupled with the obscene increase in applications received by the institutions listed above (and others), a drop in admit rates is not surprising. Remember what I’ve said in previous blog posts – though applications increased in some cases by 100% at some institutions (here’s looking at you, Colgate!), the overall number of students applying to colleges through the Common App only increased a shade over 2%. There aren’t more applicants. And there are rarely more seats to be had at most institutions. What we have are individual applicants applying to more schools.

Why? COVID and the growth of the test-optional movement for one. COVID again and the chaos it has inflicted on family financial situations. COVID one more time and the fact that students have rarely been able to visit colleges – how are they supposed to know where it is they may want to enroll? All told, conditions were ripe this year for results like these. Will it get better next year? At the most selective of institutions like those listed above and others like them, probably not.

Beyond these low admit rates, what is also often surprising to families who survey college application threads on Reddit or websites like College Confidential are the stats of students who received unfavorable results. Yes, students with perfect scores and grades have been denied admission at numerous institutions (not just HPYSM and their ilk). It can be scary for students preparing to enter this process – they may well be asking themselves, “Will I be admitted anywhere?”

The answer is, of course, YES, but it has never been more important than now to have a BALANCED list of colleges to which you will apply. Application numbers and admit rates are not down everywhere. I’ve seen fabulous application results for students I work with at both public and private colleges and universities, places where these students will thrive. The admit rate of a school has so very little to do with the quality of the education you will receive OR where you will end up after graduation. Your college experience will not come down to an admit rate or some ranking in a college guidebook. It will come down to you and what you make of it.

Admission Decisions And Waiting Lists

It’s Monday, March 29 and as of today the majority of colleges in America – public and private, small and large, highly competitive and those who offer admission to over 75% of applicants – have released decisions to Fall 2021 applicants. That said, not all have. Vanderbilt will release decisions later today and Ivy League institutions will not do so until April 6. Of the three decisions students can receive, accepted (yay!) and denied (ugh!) require no explanation. Then there’s this: “We invite you to accept a spot on our waiting list.” What the heck does that mean?

Ok, most of you know what it means. You’re being told no, not yet and perhaps not ever, but you’ve still got a chance. That chance is almost always exceptionally small, though how small varies from year to year.

So what about this year? Scott Jaschik, the editor of Inside Higher Ed, surveyed admission deans about the role waiting lists will play in 2021 in a piece published today in Inside Higher Ed. Rick Clark, Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech and co-author of the book The Truth About College Admission, offers some great advice on how students might approach their waiting list options while also, in wonderfully simple terms, explaining why waiting lists exist in the first place, in a post published last week on the Georgia Tech Admissions Blog.

“What about you, Mr. Marlowe-Rogers? Don’t you have any personal insight you would like to share about waiting lists? How does one go about being admitted off of a waiting list? What should I do to convince a school to admit me?”

I managed the waiting list at my prior institution so of course I have personal insights I’d like to share. Are you ready? Here goes – it depends! It depends on the school that added you to their waiting list. It depends on whether you truly want to attend that school. It depends on whether enrolling at a school that might offer you admission off of the waiting will hinge on whether they also offer you need-based or merit-based scholarship funding. It depends on how that school manages their waiting list process – while there are general similarities on how the waiting list process is coordinated from school to school, there are often differences as well. The biggest difference, however, is you, the student, and what being offered a place on a waiting list means for you within the context of other decisions you have received.

Because students are different. Because schools are different. It depends!

Should You Watch ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ On Netflix?

If you are the parent of future college applicants, I think the answer is yes, you should watch it.

Why? Not necessarily for a recap of the crime itself, as the film doesn’t shed any new light on what most people already know. That said, it is unique in that much of the dialogue comes from actual FBI transcripts of wiretapped phone calls.

Rather, I think there are two good reasons to tune in. First, the interviews with experts in the testing and college admissions space are insightful. Akil Bello, an expert on ACT and SAT test preparation and the test-optional movement, offers particularly illuminating opinions on the college admissions landscape. Second, the film documents interviews with actual high school students invested in the college admissions process, and they are moving. You will see students celebrating admission offers with family in one scene and then crying about rejections in the next. Hearing their voices, I believe, serves as a powerful tool for parents to witness just how emotionally draining this process can be for students.

Here is a good recap of the film written by Claire McNear for The Ringer. Finding it on Netflix is simple enough as it currently ranks on its top 10 most viewed list.

Beginning The College Search

Rick Clark is both the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Georgia Tech AND a thoughtful advocate for students in the college admissions process. He offers some fun exercises (one does involve throwing darts …) to help students begin the college search process in a recent post on the Georgia Tech Admissions Blog – Needed: New College Admissions Map. I’ve got to stop saying, “Well worth the read” but, well, it is!

From 77% To 44%

33% fewer Common Application submitters included standardized test scores on their applications in 2021 than did in 2020 according to Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed.

Will this number continue to fall in 2022 or will they rebound? My thoughts – they will never rise above 70% again – new test policies implemented by the University of California and California State University systems guarantee this, in my opinion. We are still waiting to hear from systems in North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina (among others) about their 2022 test policies but if they join their peers in states like Virginia and Pennsylvania the % of submitters will remain at or below 50%.

Despite the COVID pandemic and test center closures, the University of Florida system continued to require a standardized test result from 2021 applicants and, apparently, came out ok (applications up 3.6% at UF, 0.6% at FSU according to the Orlando Sentinel). There are still some demographic trends that need to be evaluated, however, including whether requiring test scores under the circumstances substantially impacted application rates of students hit hardest financially by the pandemic. However, it is possible that these application totals at UF and FSU may be used to support requiring test scores in some systems. We shall see.

Terrific Article On Financial Aid And The CSS Profile

FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is an acronym tossed around liberally and typically with universal understanding when people discuss college financial aid.

The CSS Profile? Less so, and yet families must complete it to receive institutional funds at schools like UNC – Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and approximately 300 other colleges and universities. Eric Hoover of The Chronicle of Higher Education covers the complexities of the CSS Profile well in an article published today titled The Most Onerous Form In College Admissions. Among its conclusions – a thought that more schools may require it once the new and “simplified FAFSA” goes live in 2022.

The Weeds Of Enrollment Management

Those who know me know that I enjoy working with young people. I’ve taught in public high school classrooms and presented to auditoriums full of college applicants. I’ve also announced high school track meets and coached youth soccer. Perhaps most influentially, I’ve loved being a parent to my own two teenagers. Working with young people is kind of my jam.

And yet, there’s another reason why I work as a college admissions counselor. I dig this stuff. The policy stuff. The how do colleges fill their classes and what happens when they enroll too many or too few kind of stuff. College admissions is a fascinating industry, and thus when Jon Boeckenstedt, VP of Enrollment Management at Oregon State, offers his thoughts on the enrollment challenges facing institutions this year, I listen.

Here’s a link to his extensive Twitter thread, unrolled for your reading pleasure (if you’re into this kind of stuff, that is!).

70%+ Test-Optional For Fall 2022 Admissions?

With over 57% of institutions already having implemented test-optional policies for next fall, Bob Schaeffer, Interim Executive Director at FairTest thinks it’s possible. A frequently updated Fall 2022 list can be found here. Still missing at this time – public flagships here in North Carolina as well as those in neighboring South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee (the major public institutions in Virginia are test-optional).

With Yale Now Test-Optional For Fall 2022 Applicants …

Now every single Ivy League institution is not requiring an SAT or ACT result from this year’s junior class when they apply to college next year. Read Yale’s new release here.

Thanks to Bob Schaeffer at for the update!

Waiting on an announcement from our friends in Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and elsewhere …

AP Schedule Spring 2021

If your student has plans to take AP examinations this spring, you will want to be on the lookout for announcements from their school/school system on when and how they are going to be administered. The College Board announced today a revised testing schedule that requires, imho, some heavy lifting by schools (especially testing coordinators). Understandable outrage forthcoming …

College Board 2021 AP Scheduling Announcement