It’s early February 2021. Where do we go from here?

We are almost in year two of a worldwide pandemic and we have seen extraordinary changes to our lives in ways unimaginable a year ago. When we look back at college planning and the application process, the impact of the pandemic was clearly unbelievable. Standardized test dates were cancelled for months on end, everyone was forced to go virtual, and extracurricular activities quickly disappeared. What did this mean for students graduating from high school in 2021 and what impact will there be moving forward?
Test Optional
Many colleges and universities decided to go “test optional” this year because many students were unable to test. What exactly is test-optional?  Usually, test-optional means that the SAT or the ACT does not have to be submitted for an applicant to have a complete application.
Many students took advantage of the opportunity to apply to very selective schools. And so…voila! MIT had 62% more early action applicants than last year. Harvard had 57% more early action applications! And so did Emory, Tulane, and Duke, etc.  It seems that once the test-optional door was opened, thousands of students ran through it.
Now, to be realistic, not every applicant has an equal chance for admission. Grades, course rigor, activities, and other factors will matter even more if a student applies without a standardized test score. Colleges are looking carefully at all these applications. What we know for certain is that the acceptance rate at these already highly selective schools will decrease even further.
Class of 2024 Deferrals
Also, because some freshman did not want to begin their college experience with virtual classes, they deferred their start dates to fall 2021. There are no national figures available, but some of the most selective colleges in the country have indicated that between 10 to 20% of their incoming freshman have deferred in anticipation of a more normal 2021 campus experience. These deferrals may impact the number of spots available for those students graduating this spring. Again, higher application rates and fewer available spots at highly selective schools leads to one certain outcome…lower acceptance rates.
State Universities
The public university systems are not reporting the same impact. Specifically, the Florida public university system did not go test optional and the Florida schools have not reported a deluge of additional applications. Moreover, the number of students deferring the start of their freshman year at public universities does not appear to be as great. For instance, the University of Wisconsin has a freshman class of approximately 7,300 students. Typically, 70 defer admission; this year 150 did. (Although it is a 115% increase in deferrals, it is a drop in the bucket given the size of the freshman class).

Graduating Class of 2022
So, what does this mean for high school students graduating in 2022?

  • It is likely that the relative “uncertainty” in the college admissions process will continue once the pandemic ends. As such, students and their families need to be more open to options and cast a wide net, focusing on fit rather than prestige.
  • Safety schools are a thing of the past – nothing should be taken for granted. Students need to plan early, carefully and – most importantly – strategically to ensure they gain acceptance to colleges that meet their needs. Ultimately, it is great to have choices.
  • Standardized testing will likely remain in place for many schools, including Florida public colleges and universities. Bright Futures scholarships will likely still have a SAT/ACT requirement so test prep is vital. Also, test-optional is just that – an option not to submit a score – but a standardized test score, especially a really good one, is an important differentiating characteristic that will not be ignored by an admissions committee.
  • Students should start exploring colleges NOW. NACAC offers great virtual colleges fairs. Click here to learn more. Also, reach out to college admissions officers, sign up on college social media sites, and feel free to check in with a Milestone College Advisor!

It takes creative and strategic planning – as well as good coaching and mentoring – to keep high school students on the path toward a great college educational experience. Things have certainly changed but by refocusing on the basics, reframing how you look at the college process, and committing to doing your best, students are sure to find success.

Marjorie Licht, Milestone College Advisor