From Test-Optional to Test-Required: Georgia System First To Reverse Course

Both the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Chronicle of Higher Education reported today that the University System of Georgia has decided to require SAT and ACT scores for all campuses beginning with Spring 2022 applicants. Thus, the students that will apply for Fall 2022 admission (current high school juniors) will be required to submit scores when they apply this fall.

If you access the Chronicle article you’ll read anonymous quotes from admission leaders in the Georgia system who are clearly unhappy with this decision (one stated that “system leaders believe that tests are how admissions should be done”). The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quotes Robert Schaeffer of FairTest:

“The politically appointed University System of Georgia Board of Regents, most of whom are not educators, are bucking a strong national trend by refusing to extend ACT/SAT optional policies for at least another year. Because they recognize the difficulty many students still face in taking standardized tests, as well as the many biases and flaws of these exams, most colleges and universities including the University of Alabama have decided to not require ACT/SAT scores for fall 2022 applicants. Test-optional admissions are the new normal because admissions experts have learned that test scores do not measure merit.”

I worked under both test-required and test-optional policies and firmly believe that strong qualitative and quantitative decisions can be reached without requiring test scores. It requires a highly trained admissions committee and a more nuanced review of applications, but admitting and enrolling a bright class of motivated students who will succeed in a college classroom can and is done by hundreds of colleges every year. If you really want to get into the weeds and learn more about test-optional student performance, read this foundational study on the topic.

Thus, neighboring schools to my home state of North Carolina are all over the place. UVA and VT are firmly test-optional for 2022 (UVA for 2023 as well). The University of Tennessee – Knoxville and the state institutions in South Carolina have yet to announce their policies for 2022 applicants. Finally, there’s our University Board of Governors here in North Carolina, quiet still on what the 2022 testing requirement will be. If you asked me in January I would have said the policy will be test-optional. Now May 13, I still think that they will follow Virginia’s lead but I’m much less confident. Students deserve to have heard something by now but alas, nothing (last year the policy was not released until July). Let’s hope they do the sensible thing soon.

Highly Selective? Of Highly Rejective?

I’ve quoted Akil Bello on this blog before and I will do so again here as it was he who coined the phrase “highly rejective” to describe colleges and universities with exceptionally low admission rates. As Jeff Selingo reports in this week’s edition of Next, rates of rejection SURGED this year. Harvard rejected (not deferred or waitlisted – rejected) 97% of its applicants this year. Princeton and MIT were not far behind at 96%. And yet, the average acceptance rate at American universities, as Selingo reports, is 57%. Why are we fixated with the “highly rejectables?” For many, it’s the association of exclusivity with prestige – the teaching, the networking, the opportunities – they all are just “better.”

And yet, as Selingo reports, this exclusivity is not just a product of perceived prestige. It’s also a result of limited supply. Fascinatingly, Selingo notes that since 1980 enrollment at US colleges has increased by 62%. The majority of that chunk has been absorbed by state institutions. Private school enrollment has only grown by 18% and at some, like Boston College and Northwestern, undergraduate enrollment has actually declined! Popular schools on student lists – Princeton, Stanford, Dartmouth, Duke – have only increased enrollment by a combined 2400 students since 1980. Increased demand + barely increasing supply = a lot of people not getting what they want.

Data like this discussed by Selingo is clearly very important for students to consider as they build the list of schools to which they will apply. Being aspirational is wonderful, truly, and there is nothing wrong with wanting something in such limited supply or that which, at first glance, may be unattainable or unaffordable. However, such aspiration needs to be leveraged with an amount of realism. Admission isn’t just not guaranteed, it’s downright unlikely at a handful of schools regardless of a student’s accomplishments inside or outside of the classroom. Knowing this, where else might a student thrive? Hint: lots of places! Thus, as you research schools, looking for places where you believe you’d thrive, review also rates of admission. I believe that there are schools at every strata of “exclusivity” where a student can have a wonderful college experience. Build a balanced list and then see how things play out come decision time.

A final note: I’d like to give a shout out to the seniors I worked with this year. Though still 11 days out from May 1, each has made a decision about where they will be attending in the fall and I am thrilled for them and their families. There were so many acceptances but some waitlists and rejections as well, and with each decision I watched as these students rolled with the punches and weighed their options. I have to confess – I like them all a great deal and believe that these colleges are getting not just smart, motivated students but also genuinely nice and good people. Congratulations all!

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).