How the World of College Admissions Has Changed

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of higher education.

Ask anyone who took the SAT or applied to colleges last year about their experience, and they’ll tell you just how stressful it was.

SAT and ACT exams were canceled last minute, causing students and their families to panic. Students were bumped from testing centers that couldn’t meet social distancing guidelines. Colleges suddenly went test-optional, leaving students unsure of how this change would affect the college admissions process.

Now that the United States has seemingly made it past the worst of the pandemic, the dust is beginning to settle. But like the virus itself, the impact on standardized testing and college admissions could linger indefinitely.

Takeaways from an Unprecedented Year

Juniors and seniors preparing for the coming round of college admissions should keep these considerations in mind:

Top colleges are more selective than ever.

Early applications to the nation’s top colleges hit record high numbers in 2020. Harvard University reported a 57% increase in applications from 2019. Yale University’s acceptance rate dropped from 14% to 11%. These trends should signal to students just how important it is to build a realistic college list this year. There’s nothing wrong with having reach schools on your list, but be sure to include reasonable target and safety schools to avoid a worst-case scenario.

The test-optional movement is here to stay.

SAT and ACT cancellations during the height of the pandemic accelerated a trend known as the test-optional movement. When a school goes test-optional, it means that applicants aren’t required to submit standardized test scores to be considered for admission. Some schools are taking these measures on a 1-3 year basis, assuming they will be temporary. Others, however, are choosing to go test-optional permanently.

The test-optional landscape will continue to change in the coming year. Pay close attention to these developments so your student isn’t caught off guard by a school’s policy change.

Colleges may be over-enrolled.

Each year, colleges must make critical decisions about how many students to offer admission so classes aren’t at risk of being over-or under-enrolled. In 2021, more students accepted admission offers than many colleges had anticipated, tipping the scale toward over-enrollment.

As schools face the challenge of being over-enrolled, the downstream effects could impact the next round of college admissions. Students should consider these factors when building their college list.

Above all, it’s important for students and their families to manage expectations as they prepare for college admissions in the coming year. The team at Signet will continue to keep our readers updated on the state of the college admissions landscape.

Picture of Sheila A.

Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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