Addressing 5 Fallacies of Elite Admissions in the Pandemic Era

Let’s debunk five admissions fallacies that have popped up in the era of COVID-19 (photo credit: Namkota).

Since the global pandemic began, we’ve seen quite a few fallacies concerning elite college admissions pick up steam. Today, we thought we’d address five such fallacies. So, without further ado, let’s debunk some of these new, brewing misconceptions — misconceptions, we might add, that are unsurprisingly grounded in older admissions fallacies. Here goes!

1. Under test-optional admissions policies, all else being equal, students with great test scores enjoy no advantage over students who don’t submit test scores. Most highly selective universities are cryptically — and unsurprisingly — not releasing the percentage of students admitted with and without scores. As an example, Duke University bragged that 44% of applicants didn’t submit test scores but the school didn’t release the all-important figure of the percentage of students admitted without test scores. Of the few elite universities that have released such data — you’ll note most don’t include such pertinent information in their press releases about their incoming classes at least as of the time of this publication — the numbers point to the significant advantage students with test scores enjoy in admissions. 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.

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 CNN reports, “‘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.

2. Since college visits were out the window, America’s elite colleges didn’t measure Demonstrated Interest this year. While in-person tours and information sessions were canceled this year due to the pandemic, America’s elite universities just found other ways to measure interest — including whether or not students completed virtual tours and information sessions. But the ways in which these schools have historically measured interest, including asking students why they wish to attend in essay prompts as so many schools ask on their supplements, remained the same. The more things change, the more they remain the same. And for those schools that claim not to care about Demonstrated Interest, don’t believe them. Emory University, as an example, declares on its website that Demonstrated Interest doesn’t play a role in the Emory admissions process. Uh huh. Emory invented Demonstrated Interest! Next they’ll tell us the Tooth Fairy is real!

3. Admissions officers didn’t read applications in their entirety this year. With so many more applications, including over 60% more at certain elite universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, there simply wasn’t time. They read the files just as they did any other year. Heck, the reason so many elite universities extended their deadlines for admission — to April 6th for the Ivy League schools, as an example — was so they’d have more time to get through them all. They read the files. Think of an extreme example. If a student indicated she aspired to become a mass murderer and the school offered her admission, they’d be in big time trouble! They have to read the files. This year was no exception.

4. Only students who have been significantly impacted by the pandemic should be writing the optional Covid-19 essay. At least that’s what so many high school counselors told their students this past year. The essay prompt will remain on the application for next year and it will remain optional. But, in spite of what school counselors may suggest to the contrary, any essay that is deemed “optional” in elite college admissions should not be considered optional. Students should write it! This is another opportunity for students to make their case. And let’s face it: we’ve all been impacted by the pandemic in different ways.

5. It was the most competitive year in the history of elite college admissions. Well, this one is a bit of a misnomer as it was in fact the case. There has never been a more competitive year in the history of elite college admissions than 2020-2021. But it wasn’t so much because of the skyrocketing application numbers. More C students applying to the likes of Harvard University and Yale University don’t make the Harvard and Yale applicant pools more competitive. And this was the year of the Squeaker — students who thought they might sneak into the incoming classes at elite universities without test scores. They thought they’d give it the old college try…only to be demoralized with the results. No, it wasn’t the skyrocketing applications that point to the most competitive year in the history of elite college admissions. It was the huge percentage of seats in so many incoming classes at elite universities that were already filled with students admitted to the Class of 2024 who opted to take gap years. As most elite universities, as we correctly forecasted, did not expand the size of their incoming classes, look no further than the gap year students as to why the year was historically competitive.

 
 

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1 Comment

  • Ed says:

    This was in a recent post from Jeff Selingo

    In every case I heard so far, students with test scores got accepted more often. In some cases, the admit rate was twice as high for students with test scores vs. those without.
    Emory: Admit rate 17% (with tests) vs. 8.6% (without tests)
    Colgate: 25% (w/tests) vs. 12% (w/o tests)
    Georgia Tech: 22% (w/tests) vs. 10% (w/o tests)
    Vanderbilt: 7.2% (w/tests) vs. 6% (w/o tests)

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