In what can only be dubbed a perfect storm in elite college admissions, at America’s top universities in 2021, applications soared and acceptance rates plummeted in an unprecedented fashion. And why? Look no further than the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to America’s elite universities not requiring an SAT or ACT score for admission. When these schools switched to test-optional, it opened the application floodgates as students who wouldn’t have otherwise thought they had a chance of admission with an SAT / ACT requirement, submitted applications to Ivy League and other highly selective universities. We’ve coined these students squeakers and the vast majority of them, of course, have since learned as rejections pile in that America’s elite colleges weren’t being particularly forthright about their test-optional policies. As we said all along, in spite of what these schools have marketed to the contrary, all else being equal, students with great test scores will always have an advantage over students with no test scores. And just how many students applied to America’s elite universities this year and how many got in? Wonder no more.
Class of 2025 Admissions Statistics at America’s Elite Universities
* For universities that offer two Early rounds, these figures reflect only the numbers through the first round.
|Colleges||Early Decision / Action Accept. Rate||Early Decision / Action Apps Rcvd||Early Decision / Action Apps Accepted||Total Apps Rcvd||Total Apps Acc.||Overall Accept. Rate|
|University of California, Berkeley||112,821|
|Georgia Institute of Technology||38%||6,132||2,330|
|Johns Hopkins University||10.8%||7,601||824||33,236||2,476||7.4%|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology||4.8%||15,036||719||33,240||1,340||4.0%|
|University of Notre Dame||21.6%||7,744||1,673||23,639||3,444||14.6%|
|New York University||17,148||100,131||12,500||12.5%|
|University of Pennsylvania||14.9%||7,962||1,194||56,333||3,202||5.7%|
|University of California, Los Angeles||139,500|
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||25%||31,940||8,000+|
|University of Southern California||n/a||n/a||n/a||70,971||8,804||12.4%|
|University of Virginia||21.4%||28,897||6,186||48,011||9,898||20.6%|
|Washington University in St. Louis||713||33,634||4,374||13.0%|
Many of America’s Elite Universities Are Being Cagier Than Usual
We’ll be filling in the above chart of admissions statistics as more data is released by each of these universities. Typically around this time every year, we have more data to report. The dearth of data this year leads us to conclude one of two things: (1) these schools are keeping their numbers closer to the vest this year or (2) student-reporters aren’t reporting as actively about admissions figures since many are not on campus this spring. Schools like Stanford University and Cornell University in recent years have opted not to report their admissions figures when decisions roll out. They reached this decision in large part so as not to add to the anxiety surrounding the admissions process. After all, when a school releases a 4% admission rate, it doesn’t exactly make most students who haven’t yet applied feel too good. Yet these schools aren’t only being cagey with their admissions figures so as to decrease anxiety. They also don’t want to deter future applicants from applying. Promoting historically low admission rates can deter many students from even giving it a shot next year. And these schools want students to apply since the more students who apply, invariably the lower their admission rates will be, and the higher they’ll be ranked in the all-important US News & World Report annual ranking of colleges.
Many Elite Universities Weren’t Being Forthright About Their Test-Optional Policies
It’s also the case that few elite universities have released the percentage of students who did and did not get in with and without test scores, which is really no surprise. While these schools love to tout that applicants face no disadvantage for not submitting an SAT or ACT score, their failure to release these numbers speaks volumes. And of the elite universities that have released some data with respect to the submission of testing, the trend is clear: all else being equal, students with great scores have an advantage over students with no scores. As an example, at the University of Pennsylvania, about 66% of Early Decision applicants to its Class of 2025 submitted test scores. And about 75% of Early Decision applicants who earned admission submitted test scores. So students who submitted test scores to UPenn this past Early Decision cycle held a statistically significant advantage in the admissions process over those who did not. As another example, at Georgetown University, 7.34% of Early Action applicants to the Class of 2025 who did not submit test scores earned admission. This compares to Georgetown’s 10.8% overall Early Action admit rate for the Class of 2025.
Admissions Leaders at Elite Universities Sometimes Let the Truth Slip Out About Test-Optional
And if you don’t think the numbers tell the story, take a look at some of the Freudian slips admissions leaders have made to press outlets in recent weeks, highlighted by the gem Cornell University’s Vice Provost for Enrollment Jonathan Burdick offered to The New York Times. In a piece entitled “Interest Surges in Top Colleges, While Struggling Ones Scrape for Applicants,” Amelia Nierenberg writes, “Prestigious universities like Cornell never have a hard time attracting students. But this year, the admissions office in Ithaca, N.Y., is swimming in 17,000 more applications than it has ever received before, driven mostly by the school’s decision not to require standardized test scores during the coronavirus pandemic. ‘We saw people that thought ‘I would never get into Cornell’ thinking, ‘Oh, if they’re not looking at a test score, maybe I’ve actually got a chance,’” said Jonathan Burdick, Cornell’s vice provost for enrollment.” Oh, Mr. Burdick, who ever would have given these applicants the crazy idea that they had an equal chance of admission without test scores? Yet it’s not like Mr. Burdick is the only admissions leader with loose lips. In a recent CNN piece by Yon Pomrenze and Bianna Golodryga entitled “College applications in pandemic year show deepening inequities in access to higher education,” NYU’s admissions leader offers a most interesting quote. As they report, “‘You might find more students applying to an Ivy League or a school like NYU because they feel like they have a chance (now that test scores are optional),’ says MJ Knoll-Finn, senior vice president for Enrollment Management at New York University.
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