Juniors, College Admission is a Stereogram

On Saturday night I was at a party. In these settings, when I am talking to people I don’t know very well, I find they generally broach a few central topics with me- sports/running, my kids/their school, and college/college admission- not always in that order.  

While it may surprise you based on this blog or our podcast, my goal is always to move as quickly away from the college admission discussion as possible, especially when people start breaking out their daughter’s transcript. I’m still working on my segways to different subjects, and admittedly, some are smoother than others. To this point, I’ve only had to resort to my nuclear options (pretend like my phone is ringing or fake a coughing fit) twice.  

Saturday night I pulled an amazing transition that took us from a spiraling commentary on standardized test scores to reminiscing about the prevalence of “stereogram” posters in college dorm rooms in the 90s. For those of you born after I graduated college, a stereogram is an image that gives a three-dimensional representation of another object. While I do not have the sales data for my time at UNC, I’d put stereogram posters just below Air Jordan, but decidedly ahead of album covers or motivational quotes on landscapes.  

The trick to seeing the hidden 3D objects is not to focus on the poster itself, but instead to allow your eyes to see “into” the colors and let the real image take shape. In some cases, you need to close your eyes and reset, change positions, or step away momentarily to see beyond what your eyes are naturally trained to recognize. Try a few for yourself here. 

Admission as Stereogram 

January and February are extremely common times for high schools to host programs for juniors.  “College Kick Off,” “Starting the College Conversation,” and “Admission 101” are a few of the panel titles I’ve seen recently. Often, the moderator will ask, “What is one thing you would like to leave folks with before we conclude?” Over the years, I’ve had a variety of responses, but one of the most important is- focus on what really matters to you, rather than being distracted by many of the initial or obvious components of the college admission search. Like a stereogram, look into what you see. And more importantly, look beyond what you see.  

Applications are not the REAL picture. Many colleges around the country had final deadlines in early January. Invariably, they will produce a myriad of press releases, infographics, and social media posts about “record numbers” of applications or comparisons to prior years; journalists write articles about application increases and decreases by sector or geographic region; educational companies create tables to compare app numbers across universities; and university boards will either tout or bemoan this specific metric. As a student considering colleges, I’m encouraging you not to focus on application numbers- and definitely not to use this as a comparative tool between schools.   

Why? Because application counts are not apples: apples. Many people will equate the number of applications a school receives as some barometer for popularity or value. The truth is colleges often count and publicize their total applications even if they are not “actionable.” As an example, this year Georgia Tech received over 52,000 applications. That is a lot. And it’s a lot more than last year or five years ago. It’s also more than some schools and less than others (I know. You are here for the mind-blowing data). Georgia Tech, however, at the direction of our state system, requires test scores. Currently, 4500 of our applicants have not submitted a test score. Still, when asked about app totals we will report over 52,000 received, because some portion of that 4500 will ultimately become “complete.” Other schools have multiple steps and stages in their application process. If you only complete Part One of four, the odds are they are counting you in their reports, even though you were not ultimately a viable candidate for admission.  

Admit rates are blurry. I get it. They seem straightforward. You see an admit rate in a column on some online table or presentation and think, “Got it.” Nope. See, that’s exactly how people felt back in the day walking into college dorm rooms. “Nice poster, man. I like all the random colors and swirling lines.”  

Look closer. Step away if you need to. Admit rates vary within the same institution. Where you are applying from, when you are applying, and sometimes what you are applying to study all enhance the swirl and blur of the stereogram. For instance, if you are applying to a school with Early Decision, it’s important to ask questions and do your homework to determine any gaps or variance between applying under that plan vs. Early Action or Regular Decision or some other acronym, date, or plan they may offer. If you are applying to a public school, ask about admit rates for students from in-state or out-of-state, or even students from “my state” or region of the country.  

For far too long colleges have boasted about (and people have assigned disproportionate value to) the number of students a school turns away. My hope is you will be more interested in determining the type of people who are actually on campus, rather than who or how many did not end up there. 

The Real Image 

Rankings, number of benches on campus, student: squirrel/deer ratio…. I could list many other numbers that people tout or hold up as signs of quality or importance. As this new year begins, I am hopeful you will treat your college admission experience like a stereogram. Numbers, percentages, and many of the other statistics are where people too often start and focus. I’m not saying you should completely ignore all admission data, but beginning by quantifying, especially now knowing how jacked up some of this data really is, can prevent you from seeing all of your choices and options. And they often create a blurry, swirling, initial picture that distracts you from focusing on the true image—YOU.  

As a junior, start by asking yourself questions that have nothing to do with numbers. Why do I want to go to college? What type of people bring out my best? What environments bring out my best as a person and a learner? What are my short- and long-term goals? If you will invest your time honestly considering what you really care about and what you want; if you will periodically step back, close your eyes, and re-focus, then you’ll find plenty of colleges that align with your answers. College admission is a stereogram– have the patience and perspective to allow it to emerge and take shape like a 3D image.  

Choices and Options- A Blueprint for College Admission

Would you rather eat a bowl of worms or drink a gallon of sour milk? 

Would you rather walk to school naked one day or walk to school backwards every day? 

Would you rather sit on a nail or stand on a push pin? 

These are just a few of the queries I overheard recently at a sixth-grade girls spend the night party. Hold on. Let me clarify- I have a sixth-grade daughter and I was washing dishes while they were playing this game in the adjoining room. (Just didn’t want you canceling this blog based on the wrong idea.) Anyway… none of these or the other options sounded great to me. And I thought about them. Really, I’m still thinking about them. I mean worms or sour milk? Just not sure. It’s the gallon that gets me. If it were a pint, I’d go milk without question. The quantity was a brilliant add. 

 I actually find would you rather instructive for college admission, because ultimately, (just like the colleges I wrote about last time) having choices and options is the goal for students and applicants. Unless you get into a college under an Early Decision plan, the ideal situation is to be able to sit down in the spring of your senior year with multiple offers of admission- and financial aid packages from those places that make it affordable and enticing for you to attend. Unlike sixth-grade girls who clearly only incorporate embarrassing or painful options, you want to have to make a tough decision because the options are so good. And in my experience, the college students who are the most satisfied with their choice are the ones who know they intentionally picked that school over other viable options.  

So how do you end up with choices and options?  

As a freshman and sophomore this starts with doing well in high school classes, and doing good outside of them. In other words, challenge yourself academically to the point where you can learn, enjoy, and still have capacity to contribute to your school, family, and community beyond school hours. At the end of the day, colleges want good high school students. They want kids who are well prepared academically and ones who will add to their campus life and ethos too. Your goal in 9th and 10th grade is simply to set a foundation. Work hard academically, learn to study, focus on time management, advocate for yourself, and get involved in things where you can really have an impact or influence.  

When colleges review transcripts, they start with the ninth grade and work from there. They are asking questions around what you could have taken, what you chose to take, and how you did in each class during each grade. On the Common Application, you’ll also be asked to indicate which years in high school you participated in various activities.  Your goal is to be kind to your current self by getting sleep and not overloading and be kind to your future self by investing now inside and outside the classroom. Having choices and options for college as a senior, comes from making good choices throughout high school. 

As a junior starting to explore colleges (and likely starting to receive lots of mail and email from schools), you should be thinking honestly and earnestly about what you really want and need in an academic environment, and the type of setting in which you can thrive. Does 30,000 students sound exciting and dynamic or terrifying? Does snow from October to March bring about visions of skiing or crying? Does the college you root for or know best have the major you really want?  

Honing in on places that focus on what you are focused on will help you eliminate colleges that don’t match your interests and invest time, money, or other resources visiting and exploring the places that do. This is not easy. It demands keeping an open mind when brochures from places you have never heard from land on your desk or kitchen table. This means being confident enough to tune out unhelpful voices (sometimes the loudest and closest in proximity) and humble enough to seek out information, perspectives, and details that may be less familiar or easy to attain. 

Ask your high school senior self this: Would you rather end up at your state’s flagship or your parents’ alma mater or the closest college to your house or know that you eliminated other options, thought seriously about what you really wanted in a college experience, and intentionally chose your state’s flagship or your parents’ alma mater or the closest college to your house?

To have choices and options as a senior, you have to do your college homework as a junior.

As a senior in the fall, please do not apply anywhere you don’t actually want to go. That’s just dumb. And please do not let anyone convince you that you need to apply to “a few more places” justso you have some arbitrary number they have conceived for you. Instead, be realistic about your grades, your profile outside the classroom, and the competition you will be facing. Again, don’t forget that the end goal is to be able to afford to go. Do your homework by talking to your school counselor, using net price calculators, and consulting sites such as MyIntuition or BigFuture. Be reminded that your chances of being admitted to a school with an admit rate below 20% do not go up 20% by applying to 20% more of those schools. Trade out “dream school” for IRL colleges. Apply to a group of schools (you figure out the number but generally more than 2 and less than 10) where you know you will be thrilled to get in and excited to go. People, there are 4000 higher education options in America and many more around the world. When you eliminate 99.9% of them, it should only leave you with places you are fired up to attend.

 

As a senior in the winter, if you are deferred, please do not write these places off if you are still legitimately interested. Julie Andrews lists raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens/ Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens/ Brown paper packages tied up with strings/ but I note she doesn’t include being deferred and having to wait during college admission as one of her favorite things. Still, if we agree your goal is choices and options, then be reminded a deferral is not a closed door. Ego bruise? Perhaps. Annoying? Sure. But you applied in their admission process not for one round. Stay the course. Send in fall grades, complete the essay, fill out the form, do the interview, or whatever else they may ask. Don’t lose sight of the end goal. Ask yourself if you would rather see it through or wonder later what might have happened?

To recap- how do you end up with Choices and Options? 

  • Do well – and do good. 
  • Do your college homework. 
  • Only apply to places that excite you.  
  •  Stay on Target.  

Spring of senior year. Voila- CHOICES & OPTIONS. You got this! 

 

What do colleges want?

My wife has celiac disease. While many people do not know exactly what that is, they have at least heard of “gluten” and are familiar with the GF or grain symbol on food labels in the grocery store or at restaurants. 20 years ago, however, when she was first diagnosed, that was definitely not the case. In fact, going out to eat was an incredible hassle. “Can you tell me if this is gluten free?” inevitably resulted in a bemused and moderately annoyed manager emerging from the back. Most of the time, despite our best efforts to provide examples, there was more head scratching (disturbing around food) and eyebrow furrowing than recognition or appreciation of the issue. In many cases, to be safe, Amy would just order a salad- sometimes bringing her own dressing to be sure.

One Saturday a month we went to a “Gluten-sensitive support group,” aka GSSG, which was 20 miles from our house in Atlanta. In a city of several million people, there was only one group- giving you an idea of how little known the issue was at that time. During those meetings, people shared advice on which doctors to see, where they had been able to find gluten free products in health food stores (never regular grocery stores), and also exchanged recipes. At the end of each meeting, people shared their latest baked good product or casserole. I looked forward to those meetings the way you look forward to taking an SAT- that is to say- not at all. At best the food tasted like salty cardboard and at worst… well, let’s just say twice in my recollection I had to quickly walk to the bathroom sink to spit out whatever half masticated delicacy I’d partially ingested.

Bottom line is if you had celiac disease, or a significant gluten allergy at that time, there were extremely few choices and options. Even as a spouse, it felt limiting.

Choice and Options

Along with my staff, we have written extensively in the past about “what colleges are looking for.” We’ve covered GPA, rigor of curriculum, activities and involvement, essays, more about essays, plenty of ink spilled and callouses grown writing about writing, teacher recs, interviews, etc. And all of that is accurate, helpful, and worth checking out. But what do colleges really want? Regardless of their size, geographic location, or athletic conference, they want the same thing– Choices and Options. They don’t want to have to “just have a salad” and bring their own dressing. They want a full menu. And their desire- or hunger as it were (really just wrote this entire blog to use that phrase)- for choices and options explains a lot about your college admission experience.

College Search (mail, email, etc.) – If you are a sophomore or junior, you have started to receive more and more email, postcards, and other glossy, shiny solicitations from colleges. Maybe this sounds familiar:

“Dear <<insert name here>>” check out our campus.” Notice all these kids of different ethnicities hanging out together snacking while studying on our super green grass. It just so happens when we took this picture that there were three benches in the background occupied by students engrossed in important discussions about today’s issues.

They say they want you to visit, check out their website, fill out this card, or ultimately apply for admission. Does this mean you will get in? Absolutely not. Does it mean you are competitive for admission at their school? No. So why did they buy your name, spend money on bulk rate postage, or invest copious time debating whether to include a picture of the kid studying abroad in Spain or the one of the students looking closely at a colored liquid in a campus laboratory? Two words (ok, technically three): Choices and Options.

Colleges cast a very wide net to encourage students to check out their school, but they have limited information about you when doing that. Perhaps they have your test score or a sense of what classes you have taken. Maybe they are trying to attract more students from your state or city, or they saw you (or your mom) indicated an interest in Chemistry on a survey or test registration form (hence the lab pic).

Post- Covid (I’m just going to keep saying that ‘til it’s truly a thing) it is tougher to visit high schools during the school day. Traveling is also time intensive and expensive. Sending hundreds of thousands of emails and mailing broadly prospective students- what schools refer to as “student search”- is a big part of their enrollment strategy. Build a big funnel of students, see who is really interested, see who applies, admit those they want, and voila- a class.

What does this mean for you? The good news is contact from a variety of schools helps you see a bigger picture. At times, we all have a tendency to be too narrowly focused. Receiving information from places you have never heard of challenges you to ask bigger questions about what you really want or need- not just default to what you recognize.  On the flipside, too many students believe that the number of times a college contacts them correlates to their odds of being admitted. Nope. Just because a school sends you pithy emails or a lovely fold out poster of their gothic campus nestled just south of the city does not mean the wind is ultimately going to blow you into the admit pool. Take these mailings with a big grain of salt (or a sodium laced circa 2003 gluten-free experiment).

Admission DecisionsIf you are a senior, unless you applied to a college who explicitly stated they are using a formula to make admission decisions, they are not using a formula to make admission decisions. Holistic admission means they draw circles more than lines. When you hear admission reps say, “We are looking for a well-rounded class…” they mean they want choices and options. It’s not just going to be about your test score or number of AP classes. This means a few things.

First, it means you are likely to see a student with lower grades or fewer activities get into a school that denies you. Their decisions are based on goals and mission. They want choices and options. They are trying to “build a class” not just hit ENTER on an Excel sheet to figure out who gets in. Is this fair? NO. But they don’t call it Fair Admissions. They call it Holistic Admission- probably because “Choices and Options Admission” rolls off the tongue like Debbie’s gluten free casserole in the GSSG bathroom.

Second, it means if you are deferred admission, they are not saying you are not smart, or they don’t like you, or that you should have joined the French Club back in sophomore year and that would have done the trick. Instead, they are saying we’d like to see our full set of choices and options. Send us your fall grades or maybe write another supplemental essay (good times!) about why you really want to come.

Fun to wait? Absolutely not. I polled 100 humans recently about their five favorite things to do in life and surprisingly nobody listed “Waiting.” But understanding the WHY matters. Too many students take a deferral as an ego hit. Or they are mad, confused, and feel wronged. Deferrals- and ultimately waitlist decisions- are part of the process. What do colleges want? Choices and Options, people. Choices AND Options.

Lastly, it means you may get into a school with a higher ranking or a lower admit rate than another school that denies or defers you. Each year after we release admission decisions, we get calls or notes starting, “With all due respect… (Note: This is the southern equivalent of “Bless your heart…” and basically should be interpreted as “I’m about to tell you why you are wrong or clueless.”) I think you have made a mistake. See, I was admitted to/ got a scholarship from (insert supposedly better college here), so I’d like you to re-review my application.” First, that’s not a valid appeal. Second, what led to the decision was that particular school’s choices and options based fulfilling their distinct institutional priorities.

As I said earlier, colleges often look the same on their websites or brochures. A picture is worth 1000 words, but when all the pictures are the same, it can seem like all colleges are too. Thankfully, they are not. At the end of the day, they all have different goals, different priorities, and different processes for enrolling our students. What they are “looking for” varies widely, but the one thing all colleges want is Choices and Options.

The good news is you can learn a lot about how to approach your college search and selection experience from understanding how colleges approach building their class. And we’ll cover that next time. Until then, have a great Thanksgiving Break. Eat well, take a nap, read something that’s not been assigned, and as always- Hug your mama.

Mission Matters

Listen to “Mission Matters (How Mission Factors Into Admission Decisions, and Your College Search)” on Spreaker.

After releasing admission decisions, there is always an immediate volley back in the week or two following from disappointed, frustrated, sad, or angry people (typically parents to be honest) who were deferred/denied/waitlisted. (While admitted families sometimes call, it’s not usually looking for an explanation of the decision.) This is both understandable and reasonable. We train our staff to be ready for any range of emotions, perspectives, stories, questions, and bargains/threats/reasoning.  

What’s more sporadic and interesting is the small group of what I call “delayed inquiries.” These are the ones that don’t come in the subsequent days or week after a decision release, but rather pop up on a random Thursday five weeks after notification. While there are nuances to every case, a majority of these include a few common threads:  the student was admitted somewhere else (often with a scholarship or generous aid package), and they want reconsideration from us as a result; the student was offered admission to a college that the parent deems “better” or harder to get into, so naturally we made an error; or the student has such high grades and test scores that “there must have been a mistake.” That quote is inevitably preceded by, “I am not trying to question your process.” 

Why?  

Why does a student with a lower (insert your quantitative measure here) get in and another does not? 

Why does one school have 12 students admitted to Example College (Home of the Fighting Ex’s!) and another only has three? 

Why are the Dunkin Donuts signs changing to Dunkin instead? 

Why does a neighbor/teammate/friend/classmate receive a brochure or invitation to a campus program and you don’t? 

Why does one admitted student receive more financial aid, or a higher percentage of aid, than another? 

Why did Darius Rucker switch to country music(Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It) 

Why does the same student get into a higher ranked school and denied from one that is less selective, I.e. has a higher admit rate?  

If your answer to these questions was “MISSION,” then you either followed my logic or re-read the title after the seeming tangential Dunkin’ piece.

 MISSION DRIVES ADMISSION 

I’ve written about this before in Ad(mission) It’s Not Fair and a few other blogs, but it bears repeating: Mission is everything for deans and directors across the country. What makes these folks successful, and what they are judged by and charged with from presidents or boards, is not simply hitting enrollment targets and class goals, but also advancing the mission and vision of the university.  

Mission will influence which schools will come to your school or state this fall.   

Mission impacts the number of students in a first-year class or whether or not a school enrolls sizeable numbers of transfer students.  

Mission informs deadlines, essay topics, and the extent to which a school requests or values recommendations or interviews in their process. 

Mission has implications on the awarding of financial aid and scholarships. 

The way colleges recruit, invest time and resources, distribute admission decisions, and allot institutional dollars all comes back to Mission

  Your MISSION Should You Choose to Accept It (Yes, my sonand I are working our way through the Mission Impossible series this summer.)

 

Take a look at the Rose Hulman’s mission statement:  

“Our mission is to provide our students with the world’s best undergraduate science, engineering, and mathematics education in an environment of individual attention and support.”

 Now compare that with Berry College’s:  

“Berry emphasizes an educational program committed to high academic standards, values based on Christian principles, practical work experience and community service in a distinctive environment of natural beauty.” 

  1. What are the primary differences you notice between the mission statements of these two universities?
  2. Are there specific characteristics, traits, or priorities you can tell either may be looking for in students based on their missions?  
  3. How would understanding a school’s mission impact your essay or short answer responses? 

Mission Possible  

Take some time this summer to research the mission statements of a few of the colleges you are interested in applying to or visiting. You’ll find some are more clear, specific, and instructive than others, but the pages surrounding them will also include vision, values, and other content that will help you understand their priorities, distinctive qualities, and whether you resonate with their direction and culture.   

  1. What are some key words or phrases from their mission statement that stand out to you?
  2. Write down some of your previous experiences or future goals that align with their mission. 
  3. How does knowing their mission prepare you for a possible interview or essay/short-answer response?  
  4. What other questions does this review bring up about the schools you are considering? 

YOUR MISSION  

Universities spend an exorbitant amount of time and money rolling out mission statements, strategic plans, and value statements (Obviously, donut shops looking to be known more for beverages do too).  

As you enter into the admission experience, I want to challenge you to do the same thing. Take some time to consider what your mission in admission is before you ever submit an application.  

Step 1: Start by writing words, phrases, or a sentence in response to these questions.  

  1. Why do you want to go to college? 
  2. What are you looking for in a particular college? 
  3. How do finances factor into your search and selection process? 
  4. What is ultimate success for you when you are looking back on your search and selection journey? 
  5. How do relationships with your family factor into your search and decisions surrounding college?

Step 2. Review your answers and try to fill in the blanks here.  
 

My mission in the college search, application and selection journey is to ________________________________________________________. 

Along the way I am committed to _________________________________________________. 

Ultimately, I want to attend a college that ________________________________________________. 

As I finish high school and head to college, I hope my relationship with my family is characterized by ____________________________________________.  

Step 3. Ok. Now take 10-15 minutes. See if you can incorporate your answers from both steps into two or three sentences. 

Step 4. Sleep on it. Take a day or two and revisit your mission statement.  

What is missing? What edits, changes, deletions, or improvements can you make that encapsulate what you (not anyone else) are truly hoping for in this experience? 

YOUR MISSION…SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT

Did you skip past all of the work to this section? If so, go back and take time to do this. Understanding your big picture goal and having perspective on what truly defines personal success in your college admission experience will help you tremendously as you build a list, write essays, prepare for interviews, handle admission decisions, and make a final college choice.  

Note 1: portions of this blog were written by my friend and co-author Brennan Barnard for a forthcoming college admission workbook publishing this fall. 

Note 2: Yes, I know the Darius Rucker one is a stretch, but I was bet I couldn’t work that into a blog this summer. 

College Admission: It Depends

Listen to “College Admission: It Depends (Reviewing Admission Predictions From This Year) – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

Traditionally, the work and world of college admission is cyclical. The early fall is about recruiting- hosting students on campus, traveling to high schools, college fairs, and communities to spread the word about your school. While Covid-19 may have disrupted how that was done, the concept held: fall= spread the word and plant seeds for the future. 

Late fall and winter, at least for schools that have a holistic admission process, is about reading applications and making admission decisions. In many ways it requires the opposite skills and focus from the prior cycle- very inward focused and lots of time spent with colleagues vs. constituents.   

In the spring, we turn our attention back to recruitment- convincing seniors to “choose us” from their other options via on campus programs or virtual or regionally hosted “yield” programs, as well as starting to talk with juniors or sophomores about future application.  

And then there is the summer. While students are still visiting campus for tours, and there are orientations and documents arriving to ensure the new class is ready to enroll, this is the primary season for reflection.  

What did we do well?  

What do we need to improve, ditch, change for the year ahead? 

Reviewing My Predictions 

Right on cue last week, Sammy Rose-Sinclair, the “woman behind the curtain” of @GTAdmission social media handles and the engine behind our podcast, The College Admission Brief, asked if I thought I had gotten more of my admission/enrollment predictions right or wrong in my October 2020 blog “The Future of College Admission?”   

A valid and timely question to consider. And, like so many answers in college admission, the truth is “it depends.”  

Is a 3.9 GPA good? Well… it depends. Is that on a 4.0, 5.0, or 13.0 scale (yes, those are all out there). 

Should I take AP English or dual enroll for English 101? Well… it depends on where you are dual enrolling, where you might ultimately apply to college, how those schools accept credit, which one you think you’ll actually learn more from, and so on.   

The truth is you can basically answer any question with those two words and then just walk off stage- or exit the Zoom room, as it were. But I’m not going to do you like that. So, let’s take a look.  

 1- Application volume.  

I wrote: “Most colleges will see fewer, or the same, rather than more applications this year….”  

Well… it depends. Obviously, you have Colgate, UGA, several UCs, along with some nationally known and highly covered universities (known for their plant-based athletic league) saw significant application increases. In fact, so much digital real estate went to covering that handful of schools that many believe it to be the real narrative.  

However, community colleges, regional publics, less selective private schools, as well as large swaths of colleges in geographic regions across our country lost students this year, and were either flat or down in 2021-2022 interest.  

What does that mean for you as a future college applicant? 

Well, only you can answer that question, but here’s another one to consider: Do you care?  

Application Totals Through March 1 

Institution Type  One-Year Change in Applications 
Private, large, less selective  2.23% 
Private, large, more selective  20.66% 
Private, small, less selective  0.41% 
Private, small, more selective  14.11% 
Public, large, less selective  12.97% 
Public, large, more selective  15.53% 
Public, small, less selective  -2.13% 
Public, small, more selective  -0.64% 

In 2020, Colgate’s first year class was approximately 800. UGAs non-resident number was not far from that. Recently, too many people have cited those two schools to be me as signposts of the “craziness of the year.” But if you are more interested in watching Hamilton than living in Hamilton, NY, or you don’t look good in red and can’t bark anyway, do these two places matter to you?  

Let’s be honest- it’s normally “adults” fueling the frenzy of consternation. If you have one of those in your life quoting limited statistics or regularly breathing heavily about college admission because of the headlines, you may have to be the adult by providing perspective and level-setting. Last I checked there were less than 65,000 total undergraduates in the Ivy League, whereas there are over 100,000 studying in Texas A&M system schools; there are 450+ schools still accepting applications right now; and many of the colleges receiving more applications this year also admitted more students due to concerns around yield.  

Mixed bag.  

GRADE: B-ish.  

2- Fewer Apps/ Student, aka A Narrower Net

I wrote: “As much as we’re all fatigued by this pandemic, it is not over. The financial impact on families, businesses, and communities is yet to be fully felt. As a result, I foresee 2021 seniors casting a narrower net when applying to college resulting in a lower application: student ratio.”   

According to Common Application data, unique applicants who submitted at least one application increased 2% from 2019-20 (sounds like more support of being more right than wrong in Prediction #1), BUT “they have submitted 11 percent more applications than last year — primarily to colleges in the Southwest (up 22.73 percent and in the South (up 15.47 percent). The mid-Atlantic and New England schools saw single digit increases.” Whoops. 

Sure, I could tell you that the Common App, while significant, only represents 900 of our nation’s 4000 colleges and universities. I could tell you that, like in #1, this varied across sector and region of the nation. I could cite my comment from the fall, “Let me be clear. There are going to be exceptions to this. Ivy League and Ivy-like schools with multibillion-dollar endowments will likely not be affected as much, so please don’t email me in six months saying I predicted Princeton’s admit rate was going to double. But here again we’re reminded those places are outliers and anomalies, not the signposts, in American Higher Education.” But those would be excuses and half-truths. Yea, it depends. But if we have to get binary, this one is leaning more toward wrong than right.   

What does that mean for you as a future applicant? 

In four simple words—BUILD A BALANCED LIST!  If you remember nothing else from this blog (and I’m hoping you’ll primarily forget where I was wrong), it is this. If you apply to a set of schools that vary in their selectivity, geographic setting, and school type, you are going to have great offers- both in admission and financial aid. Your job as an applicant is the same as it is as a student: research, listen, ask good questions, seek perspective and stay broad/open-minded.   

The truth is that many amazing colleges, due to losses during the pandemic, as well as concerns about future enrollment (see Demographic Cliff/ International fragility) are looking for students just like you. In fact, check your email or mailbox regularly in the next few weeks and you’ll notice this as truth.  

Here is a question- do you think there is another high school in this country where you could go to make friends, get involved, and learn things? How about within your city or state? Would it be crazy to even say there are 5, 7, 11 other high schools out there where you could also graduate prepared for life beyond high school and generally happy? (Hint: the correct answer is Yes.) 

Well… then take that same mentality and go find colleges with varying admit rates and academic profiles. To be very specific: a few below 50% admit rate and a few above.  

GRADE: C (but not a grade inflated C, fyi.) 

3- Bigger waitlists = longer cycle. 

I wrote: “Selective colleges are going to hedge their bets on yield rates. This means they will likely put even more students on waitlists and start pulling students earlier in the cycle (in other words, expect to see more mid-April admits as healthy colleges see deposits roll come in)…Higher education is an ecosystem. As schools continue build their classes through waitlist offers in May and June, they will be pulling those students away from other colleges. This activity and domino effect will extend deep into the summer, just as it did in 2020. We anticipated a more extended cycle as a result of NACAC’s CEPP adjustments and Covid has served to further elongate that timeline.” 

All of that seems to be true and has played out on some level. Honestly, the seemingly low degree to which schools went to their waitlists this year surprised me. That either means yield was higher than anticipated, or they put out more admits in order to adjust for flat-ish yield (my guess in most cases).  

However, the number of students receiving waitlist offers, again according to school counselors (plus a few Reddit threads) did in fact play out to be “obnoxious” as predicted. We’ll see when Common Data Sets are released in the fall, but reports of more than a few schools waitlisting well over 10,000 students are prevalent. AND, the elongated cycle is also proving to be true. 

What does that mean for you as a future applicant?  

Waitlists are used by the school to ensure they hit their class goal. As an example, Georgia Tech initially offered 6,600 students. 3900 accepted a spot, and we’ve offered admission to 240 from our waitlist to this point. While our class seems to be very close to target at this point, we have not released our waitlist. Why? Because we continue to see students melting due to waitlist offers from other colleges, request gap years/gap semesters, and we are watching the international landscape to determine likelihood of visa issuance, particularly in Brazil and India.   

Covid is forcing schools to re-build the predictive model they use to judge yield and melt. This is going to take several years. If you choose to apply to several schools with admit rates below 30%, you should expect to receive at least one waitlist offer. That may sound a little wet blanket, but again college and college admission are all about understanding history, analyzing statistics, and coming to logical conclusions based on information. Just saying. 

GRADE: B+/ A- 

FINAL GRADE 

It depends is the story of college admission this year.  

Were apps/admit rates/yield up or down this year? It depends. 

Were my predictions more wrong than right? It depends. 

Should you continue to read this blog given the consistently mixed results? Well… I did include multiple caveats and disclaimers in that predictions blog, so it’s not like I won’t tell you when I am on shaky ground.  

But here is one thing I do know to be true. If you have read this entire blog, you are a talented, smart, diligent, and committed student. So I’m 100% confident in this prediction: BUILD A BALANCED LIST and you will have great choices and options. BUILD A BALANCED LIST and you won’t need to dig into every line of a Common Data Set or maniacally follow sub threads next year. BUILDING A BALANCED LIST means that every school you apply to is your top choice, rather than reserving that moniker for one place. 

Prediction: YOUR FUTURE GRADE=  A+