From standardized testing requirements to Zoom interviews–nothing about the college application process has been normal for the Class of 2021. The early application cycle, which is an option at some colleges, allows students to either enter a binding agreement with their top choice school through an early decision application, or simply submit an earlier application through early action. For most colleges, this cycle was increasingly difficult due to massive upticks in applicants. According to The Crimson, Harvard’s applicant pool increased by 57% from the previous academic year, seeing a record low admit rate of 7.4%. These numbers reflect the majority of competitive schools– this was one of the most difficult years on record to achieve admission to higher-ranking schools.
Additionally, many students, parents, and teachers are questioning just why so many students chose to commit to a binding, early decision application during a year of so much uncertainty. Angela Sun, of Angela Sun Consulting, a college counseling service in the Bay Area, said that she believes “seniors are sitting at home and don’t have a busy [extra curricular] load so there’s no reason to not to turn in [early decision] apps.” Lack of extracurriculars certainly freed up many seniors’ schedules, as nearly every academic and athletic activity was restricted significantly in both the spring and fall of 2020.
One major difference surrounding admission this year was the lack of standardized testing requirement, with the majority of colleges dropping it, including all Ivy League schools and the UC system, whose board decided to leave consideration of standardized test scores completely out of applications. Margaret Rothe of HigherGround Counseling said that “many [students] bought into the belief” that admissions would have a more “loose entry criteria”, which turned out to be false as “admissions office[s] proceeded with the usual processes”.
Senior Piper Mueller, who was accepted through an early decision program, said that “for a lot of top-tier universities, there’s a large pressure to ED somewhere granted that your chances of getting in are significantly higher.” However, Mueller also said that “COVID altogether is extremely hard on students because it’s hard to really find out what you want to do and where you want to go, especially just granted everything online,” exemplifying some of the struggles seniors have faced while planning out their future.
Going forward, the regular decision cycle could prove to be just as brutal towards applicants as the early cycle because of similar application increases. From Harvard receiving a record-high 57,000 regular decision applications to Brown’s 26% applicant increase, it seems increasingly likely that seniors will face a spring with more rejections due to overcrowded, overcompetetive applicant pools. However, current juniors may see a return to normal for their college process, as Rothe says that “these trends are tiny blips,” and that she “would not count them as sweeping changes or prolonged trends in admissions”.