Pandemic Predictions for Spring 2021

In a topsy-turvy year, amidst a global pandemic, college admissions has been dynamic to say the least. As we come down the final stretch for the 2021 application cycle, we enter the most intense part-acceptances and denials for the regular decision round. Up until now students have answers from ED, EA and rolling schools (a primer for the acronyms is here) as well as some colleges that have already released decisions for their regular deadline applicants. But March 1st we enter the final leg of the journey, before the pendulum swings in the other direction. (I will write more about this in April)

If you or your senior is nervously waiting for the decisions that will be released in the next five or so weeks, here are a few of my predictions:

~Full pay students will be coveted. I know this is not fair (see below) but this is reality. Colleges have been hit with the double-whammy of reduced revenue as students make other choices about their education during the pandemic coupled with the soaring costs of testing, contact tracing, PPE and other pandemic related expenses. The truth is that all but the most well-endowed schools need students that can bring economic resources to their colleges.

~The decisions are going to be chaotic and not always make sense. You might see students admitted to reaches, denied at their 50-50 schools and wait listed at their high probability colleges. It is going to be unpredictable.

~The wait list in a regular year is purgatory. Schools often put more students on the wait list than they have in their freshman class. It is fine to pursue a spot on a wait list but I advise students to review their acceptances, commit to one of them and get excited about attending that college.

But this year I think things could be different and here is why. The data so far says that more applications were sent by the same number of students that normally apply. The dramatic increase in applications is not because more students are applying to college, rather the same number of students are applying to more colleges. After the decisions are all released, these students can only accept a spot at one school. And the data analytics that help colleges predict the yield from their applicant pool does not work as well when the applications soar and the colleges do no have the usual information for their algorithms to be accurate. So I think the wait lists will be large this year, but for once, I think they could be active and create a domino effect.

~The next round of decisions will not be fair. Families that are going through this process, but especially in 2021, should not look for “fair” I always tell the adolescents in my life that if they want fair, they should look for a ferris wheel. When the final decisions come down, remember this sentiment which is often cited in the college admissions world-college admission decisions are about the college not the student.

No one in this industry writes better than Rick Clark, the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Georgia Institute of Technology. If you want to read the perspective of someone on the very frontlines of college admissions, his latest piece is titled “Predicting Yield in 2021: Everyone Shorts It” is here. Enjoy!

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