February 3, 2021, by

 

News from this year’s early college application pools

As we reach the midway point of this year’s admissions cycle, we are reflecting on what we’ve seen so far. The coronavirus pandemic has changed much in life, and college admissions is no exception.

 

Colleges make unprecedented changes during Covid-19 pandemic

This past spring and summer, as the reality of the pandemic set in, colleges made adjustments to academic and campus life. Colleges took many different approaches, and as a result of these policies and the overall effect of the pandemic, students started changing their plans and deferring their enrollment. Dartmouth saw the number of students taking a gap year increase from 30 or 40 per year to 172. Yale saw their number increase from 51 in 2019 to 341 in 2020. The increase in gap year students means that there are already fewer seats for freshmen in the fall of 2021.

Also in spring and early summer 2020, colleges adopted test-optional policies in response to cancellations of SAT and ACT tests. This allowed high school seniors to apply even if they didn’t have standardized test scores, or if the students believed their scores were not a true representation of their abilities.

Colleges receive record number of early applications 

This policy change by colleges opened the application floodgates. This year’s early action and early decision pools set record application increases. Columbia saw a 49% increase in applications, Harvard’s pool was up by 57%, and Duke had a pool that was 17% larger than last year. These increases were not just at private institutions. University of Virginia’s binding Early Decision pool was up 35% and their non-binding Early Action pool was up 15%, University of Georgia’s pool was up 27%, and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill reported an increase of 10%.

Since first-year class sizes stayed relatively the same size, or even decreased due to students on a gap year, there were fewer seats for freshmen in Fall 2021, leading to record low early admit rates. For example, the University of Pennsylvania’s early decision admit rate was 15%, and MIT’s early action admit rate fell to 4.8% after they saw a 62% increase in applications.

Ivy League and others signal additional review time for record pool

With fewer applicants receiving good news in the early application rounds, we expected that regular decision pools would also increase. It is still early, but the data we are seeing is supporting that prediction. Tufts University has reported that their total application pool is up 35% over last year, and Colgate University reported a 102% increase in their total applications. The Ivy League recently announced that they need extra time to review their applications and are pushing their decision notification date back to April 6th.

Changes could yield large application pools again next year

What will application pools look like next year? It’s hard to tell at this point, but we could see these large pools again. Test-optional policies will be the norm again next year, as some colleges made a commitment to a test-optional policy through 2023, and some colleges who only adopted a single year policy have recently extended it into next year, including Cornell University, University of Virginia, Harvard University, and University of Pennsylvania.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we start exploring what all these changes mean for the high school class of 2022 and beyond.

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