Elite colleges have seen huge spikes in early-admission applicants this year, according to the Wall Street Journal. Columbia has reported 49% more early-round applicants while Harvard reported an increase of 57%. However, Harvard also admitted a smaller percentage of these early-decision applicants. Yale, Emory, Duke, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, and University of Michigan all reported increases in early-admission applications.
University of California (UC) experienced a 15% increase in applications over the last year. This increase included significant growth in applications from California Latino and Black students. These surges can be credited to the removal of standardized test requirements as well as the substantial financial aid offered by the UC system.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the college admission process. The economic hardships associated with the pandemic contributed to a decline in applications overall, and in many communities led to increased disparity between students with means and those without, prompting some colleges to extend their deadlines to address this imbalance. However, the opposite effect can be seen where economic difficulties led to a rise in applications targeted toward those programs that offer generous financial aid. It is also thought that some upticks in applications stem from the feeling that a college degree is a way to insulate against future economic uncertainty.
Due to the pandemic, many potential applicants were prevented from taking standardized tests, taking part in extracurricular activities, or even attending in-person classes. The eight Ivies are included in the more than 1,500 colleges and universities that are not requiring SAT or ACT scores on applications this year. UC regents voted this year to phase out the tests, which they view as a barrier to equitable admissions. This is good news for students who have strong GPAs but are weak test-takers. These new rules have put an Ivy League education within their reach.
Another factor contributed to the increase in applications: The fact that so much outreach was done virtually this year, instead of through campus visits, allowed admissions professionals to reach a much wider audience, including international students.
Some of the most highly selective schools have reported two to three times the normal number of early-admissions applications this year. However, more applications do not necessarily mean more admissions. Yale admitted approximately 10% of their early applicants, compared to 14% last year. Harvard’s rate fell from 14% to 7.4%.
Non-Ivies have not seen the same increase in early admissions. The number of Common Applications submitted by December 2nd was 6% more than last year. However, the number of applicants was down 2%. This means that fewer students applied, but they applied to more schools. This creates problems for admissions officers, as they can’t predict who will actually enroll in their program and how many students they have to accept to make their target class size.
In addition to the larger number of applicants for the elite schools, admissions officers also have to take into account all of the students who deferred their Fall 2020 admissions due to COVID-19. Not all of these students will actually enroll, and some schools may take in larger freshman classes to offset smaller sophomore classes.
Harvard is taking a “conservative approach” to early admissions this year, according to William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid for Harvard College. This will enable them to “ensure proper review is given to applicants in the regular admissions cycle.”
Other schools have made changes as well. Princeton University did not offer early admissions this year in acknowledgment of increased pandemic-related pressure on applicants. Cornell University stated last spring that it would not release specific early or regular cycle application or admissions stats but will continue to report these numbers annually to the federal government.
Though it is clear that higher education will continue to feel the effects of the 2020 pandemic, both good and bad, for many years to come, the system is adapting and both schools and applicants are working to overcome COVID’S challenges.
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