College Admissions, Updates

Update for April 2021


Colleges Still Accepting Applications: While some colleges received more applications than usual, resulting in lower than usual admissions rates, this was mostly limited to a small number of colleges that turn down the majority of applicants. Other colleges are still accepting applications, and many of these even have financial aid available. NACAC publishes this list each year and will continue to update it through the summer.

More Colleges Announce Covid Vaccine Requirement: A growing list of colleges have announced that they will require students to have covid vaccines in order to attend in person classes in Fall 2022 (with some exceptions for medical and religious reasons). These decisions are affected by experience of student outbreaks in previous semesters as well as requirements and restrictions from state governments. Chronicle of Higher Education is keeping a list of colleges with vaccination requirements for students and/or employees.

Over 1,400 Colleges Will Not Require Tests for Fall 2020 Admissions: Last spring there was a rolling shift to test optional admissions at most colleges as a response to a lack of access to SAT and ACT tests. A big question for Class of 2022 students has been if this would hold for them as well. A significant number of colleges have announced that they will in fact stick with their test optional policy for the Fall 2022 admissions cycle. Fair Test keeps the most up to date list of test optional and test blind colleges.

Best long read: What happens when colleges use AI to run help chat bots, grade assignments, and even weigh in on admissions decisions? Is it effective? Is it fair? From Admissions to Teaching to Grading, AI Is Infiltrating Higher Education The Hechinger Report. [By the way, The Hechinger Report is definitely a site to watch if you like long form reporting on education topics.]

Meanwhile, back at the office: There were a few big happenings for Admissions Decrypted this month.

First, I was invited to be part of two great podcasts. Fellow Naval Academy alum asked me to join him on  The Goohay Podcast. He’s a great interviewer and I had a lot of fun talking about how parents should approach college admissions. Fun fact, my fast combat stores ship was the assigned replenishment ship for his aircraft carrier. Our podcast reminded me of those underway replenishment days at sea, when the ships would be full of activity as fuel, food, and mail were passed from one to the other. The Goohay Podcast is similarly fast-paced and full of good stuff.  [Goohay is another word for gouge, the helpful information one shipmate passes to another.]

The second podcast was a session with Amanda Huffman, a recognized military podcaster who does both the Women of the Military podcast and the newer Girls Guide to the Military. Amanda’s goal is to be a straight-talking resource for women who are considering the military. We talked specifically about the different types of service academy nominations, where to get them, and how to request them.  Girl’s Guide to the Military: Service Academy Nomination Tips.

The last big change here has been moving my office set up from a corner of a bedroom back into my office. Last spring, our sons came home from college spring break and then stayed for several months. That resulted in a quick scramble to create spaces that could accommodate college students on drastically different remote schedules. Now that one has graduated and the other is back at school, it was time to shift back. A few people have already commented on the new setting. I hope you’ll be able to see my new digs in an upcoming meeting soon.  

All, College Admissions, College Applications, Covid-19, Financial Fit, Homeschooling, Updates

Update for March 2021


Common Application Adds More Colleges: The Common Application (or Common App) is an application portal that allows students to apply to multiple colleges via one login system. It simplifies the application for the student by eliminating the need for separate applications for every single college. Common App announced that over 30 new colleges were joining the platform, including University of Alabama, James Madison University, Colorado School of Mines, Portland State University, and all of the public colleges in Illinois. Over 900 colleges use Common App for undergraduate admissions. Significant colleges that do NOT use Common App include the University of California and California State University systems, Texas public colleges using Apply Texas, University of Washington, and all US service academies. Those colleges use an independent proprietary application or are part of the Coalition Application (University of Washington).

Note: In February Common App announced Personal Statement Essay Prompts for the 2021-22 application cycle.

Florida Bright Futures: Late in February, state legislation in Florida proposed significant changes to the Florida Bright Futures scholarship. The changes would have reduced the degrees eligible for scholarships by creating a list of degrees that lead to direct employment. It would also have reduced the number of college credits funded under the scholarship if the student had earned college credit in high school (such as through Advanced Placement or dual enrollment/dual credit courses). It also would have allowed the legislature to set an annual award amount for National Merit Scholars through the state budget process, rather than tying it to tuition costs. There was significant pushback from Florida residents and legislators and there have been major changes to the bill (including removing the section that would penalize students for early college credits), but it signals efforts by state governments to control over state grants for higher education through the annual budget process. (Article on original proposal.)

College May Require Covid Vaccines: Rutgers University announced they would require students in Fall 2021 to have a Covid-19 vaccine (with exceptions for medical and religious reasons and for students in fully remote or online-only programs). Rutgers is located in New Jersey, a state that experienced a heavy death toll in the early months of the pandemic.

Featured Long Article Episode

This month I suggest listening to This American Life Episode 734: The Campus Tour Has Been Cancelled. This episode looks at the ways that test optional admissions policies have opened the door for more applications to some highly sought colleges, at the same time that other student groups have seen applications drop precipitously. The second part of the episode looks specifically at The University of Texas, which admits the majority of its students based on class rank at Texas high schools.  In the absence of test scores, class rank may rise in importance for other colleges.

Meanwhile, Back at the Office

As Co-Chair of the Homeschool Affinity Group of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), I was excited to help launch a college admissions panel series focused on admissions for homeschool students. Our first panel included admissions representatives from Stetson University, Vanderbilt University, Whittier College, and University of California.

The conversation was encouraging. Each was excited about having homeschoolers apply to and enroll at their school, and none of the colleges on the panel had extra requirements for homeschoolers. Homeschoolers are admitted at rates that reflect their proportion in the respective applicant pools. Most of the schools read homeschool applications alongside other applications, while one school had an admissions rep who read all homeschool applications.

Each of the representatives mentioned that outside academic experiences, such as dual enrollment/dual credit courses or Advanced Placement coursework, are useful in determining student ability. Whittier, Stetson, and Vanderbilt all found detailed course descriptions and a school profile document helpful to put the student transcript into context.

On the other hand, University of California relies on the student-generated course and grade information that is internal to their application. They don’t review transcripts at all until after admissions offers have been made, so students need to clearly self-advocate in other parts of the application, such as Additional Comments and Other Academic History sections.

The rep from Stetson noted that the majority of their homeschool applications were from in-state students. This isn’t surprising, given that Florida has a large homeschool community and Stetson University is a small college (3,000 students) that is better known regionally.

Homeschool applicants need to understand their audience. The application expectations for a very large university that has to review 100,000 applications will be different than the expectations at a small college that hand reviews every application. It also underscores the need for patience when communicating with admissions reps, who may not be familiar with what homeschooling looks like outside their typical recruiting areas.

I’m looking forward to the next Homeschool Affinity Group college admissions panel in May. It will be interesting to see if there are new insights as we go into the 2021-22 application cycle.

All, College Admissions, College Applications, College Planning, Essay Writing, Testing, Updates

Update for February 2021


Increase in Applications for Some; Declines for Others:  As colleges release early admission decisions, it becomes apparent that the surge in applications reported by high profile colleges was not an across the board phenomenon. Not only did many smaller and regional colleges experience a drop in applications, but also applications from first generation and low-income students dropped. The Full Story on Admissions from Inside Higher Ed discusses these patterns.

Fall 2022 Test Optional Policies:  Fair Test keeps a running list of colleges with test optional admissions policies and announced that more than half of US four year colleges would be test optional for Fall 2022 admissions. Be aware of the specific details at colleges you’re interested in. Test Optional doesn’t mean Test Blind, and some colleges are using Test Flexible, but still really prefer to see scores.

A New Prompt for Common App Essays:  The Common Application announced their personal statement essay prompts for the 2021-22 application. Most of the prompts remain the same, but one new prompt on gratitude has replaced another seldom chosen prompt. However, I still advise students to start the writing process by considering what they want the admissions office to know about them rather than fixating on a specific prompt.

Featured Long Article

‘Act Now!’ Say Hello to the New Enrollment Playbook (The Chronicle of Higher Education) Seniors may have noticed that as admissions decisions have been announced, emails from colleges have shifted to frequent entreaties to make deposits and complete enrollment. Sometimes these requests are sweetened with benefits for early commitment, like first choice dorm rooms, small scholarships, or parking passes. These policies put pressure on students to commit to colleges before they have received all of their admissions decisions and without comparing financial aid offers.

In the past, many colleges agreed to an admissions cycle in which no application deadline was earlier than October 15, Early Decision applications were binding but did not have extra perks, and students applying under Early Action, Regular Decision, and Rolling Admission options had until May 1 to make their enrollment decisions. Changes to the agreed upon ethical standards has created a situation in which a number of schools are exploring ways to get students to commit earlier or switch their enrollment choice after May 1. This article goes into detail on the how and why of these efforts.

Meanwhile, Back at the Office

February was a busy month at Admissions Decrypted. I had several opportunities to discuss college admissions, including a Service to School workshop on Writing College Essays, a presentation on service academy applications to a group of IEC colleagues, and a fun talk about the myths of college admissions to a group of local area service academy alumni. I have a few more presentations currently in the works, including my first ever appearance on a podcast.  

Meanwhile, I’ve been having a lot of fun with the sophomores of Class of 2023. We have been doing interest surveys and career explorations. They bring a lot of enthusiasm to the process, and it’s cool to watch them weighing options and considering who they are and what they want to become. I still have room in both the Class of 2022 and Class of 2023 cohorts. If you know someone who would like help in the college admissions process, I’d be delighted if you referred them to me.

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.

All, College Admissions, Updates

Update for November 2020

One of my educational consultant colleagues challenged me to do more regular updates as a round up of what I’m seeing happen in the world of colleges and college admissions. I’d love to hear what you think.


Fewer college applications were submitted by November 2 than were submitted by the same date last year. Applications Are Decreasing, Inside Higher Education

The US Naval Academy announced the spring slate of senior brigade leaders, including Sydney Barber, the first Black, female midshipman to serve as Brigade Commander. USNA Press Release,  CBS This Morning

Some colleges had planned to end in-person instruction before Thanksgiving, to reduce the trips between campus and home and the risk of spreading infection. Faced with growing outbreaks around the country, many colleges are choosing to go to online only even earlier, suspending in-person classes until the spring semester. Cutting the In-Person Semester Short, Inside Higher Education

Best article of the week

Akil Bello is the Senior Director for Advocacy and Advancement at Fair Test, which maintains a list of colleges with test optional policies. He challenges the idea that the value of a potential student is adequately measured through a standardized test. I don’t always agree with him, but I do read him whenever I get the chance. He also loves data. It’s no surprise to see him digging into the effect of continuing to require standardized test scores on college application numbers. Why Applications Are Plummeting at Florida’s State Universities.

Meanwhile, back at the office

This week is the IECA Fall 2020 Conference. Over 700 IECs from across the US and around the world are gathered together virtually to share expertise, best practices, and ways to help clients navigate college admissions (Akil Bello, who wrote the article on testing and Florida applications mentioned above, was a keynote speaker at the last IECA Conference in July). Topics over the week include affordability, considerations for law school and medical school admissions, and elements of fit in college admissions. Later in the week, I am presenting and moderating a panel on homeschooling. 

It’s great to get to see other IECs I’ve made friends with over the past few years via virtual round tables, professional reading groups, and my IEC Certificate program. Even though we mostly interact online, these are people I consider friends. We have even scheduled a few join ups before and after the official events, just to hang out and chat. I hope that high school students who are immersed in virtual education are also finding ways to keep connecting as people with their classmates and friends, even if you have to resort to online trivia nights.

We are nearing the end of the early round of college admissions. December 1 is the last early deadline for any of my clients. Then there are a few more to finish for regular decision. Some of the students who submitted to colleges using Rolling Admissions already have acceptances in hand (which takes a lot of pressure off of holiday conversations). Congratulations to those who have their first acceptances. Courage to those who are still working on applications or who have transitioned to the long wait.