Applications are surging . . . what does that mean for you?

Applications to top-ranked colleges and universities have skyrocketed this year, sending students and their parents into a state of heightened anxiety. Harvard recently announced it received a record 57,000 applicants for the class of 2025, a 42% jump from last year, forcing it to a delay releasing admission decisions until April 6th, a week later than planned. This news follows a similar trend in early applications, where the was an increased number of applications and decreased acceptance rates at the most selective institutions.

The increase in applications is yet another way that COVID-19 has upended college admissions. Conventional wisdom is that the move to test optional is largely responsible for the surge. In a recent segment on PBS News Hour, Jeff Selingo, author of  Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, suggests that  students who in previous years might not have applied to highly selective colleges because of low test scores decided to “give it a shot” this year.  According to Jerry Lucido, Dean of Strategic Enrollment Services at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, the increased number of applications means “many of the analytics that admissions offices use to predict enrollment and to make admission decisions are in flux.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/brennanbarnard/2021/01/01/2021-college-admission-predictions/?sh=6eb380d515eb. Translated to students and families this means increased uncertainty and worry.

But, it’s important to remember that not all colleges are experiencing runaway application numbers. Many colleges, in fact, saw a decrease in applications and are actively recruiting students. While the headlines may focus on the dramatic increase in applications at highly selective public and private colleges and universities, that is not the entire college admissions landscape.

So what does this mean for your child? While the numbers feel daunting, admissions officers know how to read applications and will be assessing applications as they always have, looking at a student’s transcript (GPA, trends in grades and rigor of classes) and involvement in activities (which admissions officers understand have likely been impacted by COVID as well). Character still matters. Admissions officers will read student’s essays and letters of recommendation in order to get to know them as three-dimensional people and will seek to craft a diverse and dynamic class.

Assuming your child applied to a balanced list of colleges, the overwhelming likelihood is that they will be admitted to several colleges and have wonderful choices in the spring. While there are likely to be longer waitlists, and probably movement off of waitlists at colleges that often do not admit from them, before your child graduates from high school they should know where they will be headed this fall.

I always caution that the only thing predictable in college admissions is that it is unpredictable, and that is certainly true this year. But in uncertain times, it can help students to focus on what they can control – continuing to learn and develop their minds in their last semester of high school, spending quality time with family before they leave home, and pursuing activities that give them pleasure, maybe going for a run, reading a book or playing fetch with the family dog.