All, College Admissions, Updates

Update for December 2020


As December draws to a close, admissions results for Early Decision and Early Action applications are trickling in. Many colleges experienced significant increases in applications – particularly some of the most selective colleges and in-demand state flagship universities. This is a small sampling.

University of Virginia Early Decision applications up 36%. Compare with 2019 here.          

Johns Hopkins Early Decision applications up 11%.

Virginia Tech Early Action applications up 35%.  Or to put it a different way, more students applied by the 2020 Early Decision and Early Action deadlines that applied during the entire cycle of 2018-19.

Early Action applications to Harvard increased 57%.

Georgia Tech Early Action applications increased 20% for Georgia residents. (Out of state numbers haven’t been released yet.)

In mid-November, a large number of colleges were reporting a decline in early applications compared to 2019. It’s hard to tell if this was a situation where students were later than usual in hitting submit, or if test optional policies have encouraged more students to apply to colleges that would have felt out of reach in previous years. Colleges that experience a decline in applications are less likely to write press releases, so it may be late in spring before we see the full picture (see article below about increases AND declines in California). As always, we suggest that students apply to a range of colleges – including some that have medium or high chances of admission. This year, this recommendation is even more important; since a higher number of applications means that colleges can be even more selective during admissions.

This graphic by Judi Robinovitz, a CEP who runs Score At The Top Learning Centers & Schools shows some of the steep increases that have been reported this year.

Highly Selective Colleges Had Significant Increases in Early Decision & Early Action Applications in 2020

Long article of the month

Applications to University of California campuses were up 15% while total applications to California State University campuses declined 5%. CSU applications varied widely by campus. Highly sought Cal Poly San Luis Obispo was up 4%, while Cal Sate Dominguez Hills had a 17% DROP in applications. This article does a good job of explaining the trends and some of the reasons behind them. UC numbers soar, Cal State tumbles as pandemic upends college application season.

Meanwhile, back at the office

Twice a month I meet with a group of other educational consultants to discuss trends in admissions, how to better serve our clients, and other professional development topics. This fall we’ve been discussing the book Who Gets in and Why by Jeff Selingo (Scribner, 2020). The author spent a year interviewing high school seniors and also embedded in three college admissions offices as they went through the process of reviewing applications and making admissions decisions. He was able to use this access to “pull back the curtain” on the admissions process.

Our group has discussed the different ways that colleges review applications, the assumptions and attitudes that students bring to the process, and the influence of finances and college operating expenses on admissions decisions. In mid-December, Jeff Selingo joined us to discuss topics around college admissions and how we can help students think more broadly about colleges and gain more control over the search and application process. It was an interesting discussion, and I’m grateful that he was willing to spend time with our group.

I highly recommend Who Gets In and Why to parents of high school students. It doesn’t promise a secret pathway or side door to admissions. What it may do is help families see that the colleges have their own institutional goals that might not overlap with the goals of the student. Recognizing that a turn down letter reflects these institutional priorities may take some of the sting out. Selingo also recommends considering more than just a handful of colleges. His dubious view of the effect that the US News and World Report college rankings is especially worth noting, given that his journalism career started as a college intern working on the rankings in 1994.