According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge of college applications this year, which led to record low acceptance rates at many colleges, including the majority of Ivy League schools.
The eight Ivy League schools, as well as some other highly selective schools, sent out acceptance notifications a week later than in past years. This was to give admissions offices time to evaluate the huge number of applications they received.
The following are examples of the low admission rates of some of the Ivy League universities this year:
- Harvard University admitted just 3.4% of students who applied (1,968 admitted from 57,435 applications). Applications were up 45% over the last year. Two years ago Harvard’s admission rate was 4.6%, which was the previous low.
- Yale University accepted 4.6% of the students who applied (46,905 applicants). There was a 33% increase in applicants from last year, when 6.5% were accepted.
- Columbia University accepted only 3.7% of students who applied (60,551 applicants). This is down from 6.1% last year.
The pandemic led hundreds of schools, including the majority of elite schools, to waive the requirement of SAT, ACT, or other standardized tests due to the difficulty of sitting for the exams. This waiver induced a surge in applications, while the number of openings declined due to the large number of students deferring admission from last year as a result of COVID-related uncertainty.
Harvard’s College of Arts and Sciences has admitted a full class this year, in addition to the 349 students who deferred their admissions last year. Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay wrote in a press release, “Harvard is committed to opening the doors of opportunity to all talented students, even if it means confronting the challenge of accommodating more students on campus next year.”
According to Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions at Duke University, “Ten percent of the class entering this fall were admitted a year ago, and decided to take a gap year. That left fewer places than usual.” Duke received 25% more applications this year, leading to a record low acceptance rate of 5.8%, down from 8.1% last year.
Despite record low acceptance rates, many schools admitted more diverse classes.
- New York University’s accepted students included 20% who are the first in their families to go to college, 20% from low-income families, and 29% from traditionally underrepresented groups.
- Dartmouth’s accepted students included 17% who are the first in their families to attend college, while 48% identified as Black, indigenous, or other people of color.
- Harvard’s accepted students include 20.7% who are the first in their families to attend college, 27.2% Asian Americans, 18% African American or Blacks, 13.3% Latinx, 1.2% Native Americans, and 0.6% Native Hawaiians. Women make up a majority of the admitted class, at 52.9%.
Harvard College’s dean of admissions and financial aid William R. Fitzsimmons called the class of 2025 “heroic” for having gone through a completely virtual admissions cycle. He added, “We have the most diverse class in the history of Harvard this year, economically and ethnically. This is an incoming group of students who’ve had experiences unlike any experiences first-year students have had in the history of Harvard or history of higher education.”
Despite the spike in applications at the elite schools, less well-known schools experienced no change, or fewer applications this year. Bill Conley, founder and co-principal of Enrollment Intelligence Now, an enrollment-management consulting firm believes that “we are going to continue to see a severe separation of the elite from the sub-elite and everyone else.”
Acceptance rates are not considered final until the beginning of the school year. These rates continue to change as schools turn to their waiting lists to fill empty seats. Last year many elite schools accepted a larger-than-usual quantity of wait-listed applicants due to the significant number of students opting to defer their acceptances.
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