Applying to college is stressful enough, and this year's pandemic has spawned even more confusion and worry for parents and high school students alike. This edition of "Ask a College Counselor" is intended to provide useful information to ease some of the prevalent anxiety and to correct some of the misinformation currently circulating about college admissions!
Question: Current high school seniors applying to colleges are going to have a harder time getting admitted since all of those kids from the previous grade deferred and will now be taking up space in the Class of 2025, right?
Answer: NO!!!!! That's not how it works!!! Unfortunately, this is such a common belief this fall, but it's based on incomplete information and speculation that's gleaned from news headlines without digging deeper into the context. First of all, admission offices are complex and feature staff that have different roles in the higher ed admission process. One of the most important people in an admission office is the Enrollment Manager, whose job is to track and analyze data on things like student inquiries, application numbers, admission offers, yield, and retention. The Enrollment Manager is the person who looks at historical admission data, and makes predictions on the number of students who will likely apply, accept admission offers, and actually show up on campus that fall (because not all students who send in deposits actually matriculate - it's a phenomenon called "summer melt"). The Enrollment Manager usually has a pretty good idea of how many students the school can accommodate when it comes to deferral requests, and schools don't automatically allow any student who wants to take a year off to do so with a guaranteed place in the next class. Enrollment Managers know the numbers: they know how many student deferrals are too many, so any competent Enrollment Manager would NOT allow so many students to defer that it would significantly throw off admission numbers for the next class. So while yes, more students on the whole nationally decided to take a year off instead of becoming college first years during Fall 2020, this is not going to dramatically affect how many current seniors are offered college admission. Moreover, the latest data released from the Common Application indicates that ALL college application numbers are DOWN from last year, meaning that less students across the U.S. and internationally are applying to colleges and universities this cycle. THAT is data that suggests that it will actually be EASIER to be accepted into college this cycle than it was last year because more schools are looking for more bodies to put into their classroom chairs. Obviously, this doesn't apply to the hyper-selective schools like Harvard, but still - overall, the current trend in college admission is seeing LESS total applications to all U.S. schools than last year at this time.
Question: But what about standardized test scores?? I registered 6 times in 2020 to take the SAT but every testing date eventually was cancelled, and I can't afford to travel to a different state to take the test. Aren't I going to be at a major disadvantage in the applicant pool?
Answer: Absolutely NOT!!! Over 1,600 colleges in the U.S. currently are test-optional due to COID-19 (you may read more about this trend here). And these schools mean it! When they say "test-optional," it is TRULY OPTIONAL to send in your test scores if you're lucky enough to have taken a standardized test this year or in the past. Admission officers are humans, too, and they have been living in this pandemic right alongside the rest of us. They understand that standardized testing has been a hot mess this year, and they know that it has been virtually impossible for any student, save for the most privileged, to be able to take the SAT or ACT this year. When they say "optional" in this case, they actually mean it! So please, please, please know that your application will be reviewed using other criteria (such as your essay responses, your course rigor and grades, your extra curricular activities, your recommendations, etc.). And yes, there are still some schools out there insisting on standardized scores to apply (I'm looking at you, Florida universities!). But their application numbers are plummeting right now, so we will see how long they will continue to insist on something that is out of reach for most students currently. Please don't risk your health or your family's health by trying to take the SAT or ACT before it's safe to do so!!!
Question: My child is a junior in high school, and we haven't started to do ANYTHING related to college admission! Are we super-behind in the process??
Answer: NO!!! You're all 100% fine!!! It's typical for high school counseling departments to have their "college application kickoff" events in the January of the student's junior year (in other words, the second half of junior year, after winter break). And that's really a great time - students can begin researching schools online during this time and start participating in virtual open houses, online information sessions, and virtual campus tours (in a non-pandemic year, students would also be planning in-person campus visits during February and April vacation weeks). I recommend that students have a solid working college application school list by the end of junior year, but that's flexible, too. Given all of this, you're not behind in anything!!! So please enjoy the holiday season, and let's all celebrate the end of this year before our work resumes in January!
Maruta Z. Vitols is an independent educational consultant in the metro-Boston area. When not helping students achieve their dreams, she enjoys hanging out with her dog, exploring new places with her husband, and doing yoga.