Thoughts on the Topsy-Turvy 2021 College Admission Cycle

Greetings on the winter solstice. I wanted share a few thoughts about the 2021 application cycle in the waning days of December. At this point, the majority of the Early Action/Early Decision (EA/AD) answers are in. And the only thing that has been consistent is how unpredictable the decisions are.

I am hearing from double-legacies with incredible academic profiles that are being denied. I have students telling me that they are getting congratulations from family and friends when they learn of their deferral from a selective school to the regular decision pool. And I am sure if you are reading this, that you have similar stories to share.

The test-optional facet of the 2021 cohort appears to have shifted the landscape. Colleges that required scores in the past have allowed students to apply without testing this year. I have colleagues sharing heartwarming stories about students that were unable to test because multiple test dates were cancelled that have received acceptance letters. The flip side of test-optional is that many of these schools have seen record levels of applicants in the early round. One of the most extreme examples is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the past, they review 9,000+ early applications. This year they received over 15,000! And they explicitly said that they were not increasing the number of students that they accept. So this makes the EA acceptance rate an ultra-selective 4%.

If you are a senior, or the parent of a senior, the one thing that I can suggest is to make sure that you love your list. One must be excited not only by the most selective schools where they are applying, but also by the schools that offer a more generous threshold for admission. When a student only likes their reach schools, it is a recipe for heartbreak.

I will leave you with one story that had a positive ending. The week before Thanksgiving, I received an inquiry from the parent of a senior. We scheduled an appointment for a phone call, where I learned that this parent was distressed that the first college decision that their child received was a denial from a selective state flagship. The family was concerned that this rejection was a harbinger of future decisions and they were quite anxious. When she told me the name of the school that sent the rejection letter, I was not surprised. This is quite a selective school and I would have suggested that this student apply in the regular round, not early action. I asked about the rest of the list and the level of stress on the other end of the phone started to diffuse when I told them that I thought their list was great and that this first decision was not surprising nor was it indicative of the way things would go for the rest of the applications. This parent was palpably relieved and asked if we could schedule another appointment with the student after the holiday to review the list, the essays and the Common App. I was happy to oblige and we made a date for the week after Thanksgiving. Two days before our appointment, the mother texted me and said that she needed to cancel our meeting and asked me to call her. I gave her a ring and she had the most wonderful news. Her child had been accepted early to one of their dream schools and they no longer needed to review their application. So in a matter of days, the anxiety and distress this family was feeling turned to full-blown elation. If your family has a senior, I wish the same for you during this holiday season. Peace and health in 2021.

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