It Really Was the Most Competitive Year Ever in Admissions

It really was the most competitive year ever in elite college admissions — but not because of the reasons so many of the headlines suggest (photo credit: Derrick Smith).

Was the 2020-2021 college admissions cycle the most competitive ever? Year after year, elite colleges love to tout how students faced “the most competitive year ever.” They then so often back up these assertions with statistics, including mushrooming application numbers and diminishing admission rates fast approaching zero. It seems rather ironic if you ask us that so many of the gatekeepers at these elite universities would so proudly tout such assertions in the same breath that they express they wish to make the highly selective college admissions process less stressful for all. And to think some ill-informed folks in the cheap seats might criticize Ivy Coach for contributing to rising anxiety levels about the elite college admissions process — if only they read our blog or perused our statements to the press in which we say year after year it wasn’t actually discernibly more competitive to get in than the year before. To make our point, and we realize the example is extreme, just because more C students apply to Harvard doesn’t make it more competitive to get into Harvard. It just means Harvard got better at inspiring unqualified applicants to apply. And, yes, America’s elite colleges get better every year at inspiring unqualified students to apply. We call these students Squeakers — students who apply but don’t have a shot of admission. And, because these schools transitioned to test-optional this year due to the pandemic, 2020-2021 was the year of the Squeakers. Behold the Squeakers!

The Gap Year Students, Not the Admissions Rates Tell the Story

The fact is, the mushrooming applications and diminishing admission rates at our nation’s elite universities this year were surely noteworthy — and unprecedented — but they themselves are not indicators that it was the most competitive year ever. These data points are good for headlines. But they don’t necessarily tell the true story. Unlike just about every other year when elite colleges tout how it was “the most competitive year ever” and we roll our eyes, this year really was the most competitive year ever — just not because of the application tallies and admission rates. Rather, as Ivy Coach’s Brian Taylor was recently quoted in The St. Louis-Post Dispatch in a piece by Aisha Sultan entitled “A silver lining in the hardest year for college admissions,” “Part of this dramatic rise can be attributed to this year’s test-optional policies that permitted students to apply without submitting ACT or SAT scores. Also, far more students were stuck at home during lockdowns without extracurricular activities competing for time spent filling out college applications. But these aren’t the main reasons why it was the hardest year ever to get in, according to Brian Taylor, managing partner at Ivy Coach, a New York-based private college consulting firm. Around 20% of last year’s admitted students at these schools took a gap year, meaning there were fewer seats available in a year with unprecedented application numbers, he said.”

Ivy Coach’s Crystal Ball Was Right on 2020-2021 and Forecasts Fewer Applications Next Year at Elite Universities

So was the 2020-2021 college admissions cycle actually the most competitive year in the history of elite college admissions? Unquestionably. But look to the earmarked slots for admits to the Class of 2024 who took gap years and ultimately filled so many seats in the Class of 2025. At so many elite universities, around 20% of seats were off the table from the start because — as Ivy Coach’s famously accurate crystal ball, one even cited on the pages of America’s oldest college newspaper, correctly projected early on in the pandemic against a wave of naysayers from the cheap seats — most highly selective universities across America would not significantly expand their incoming class sizes. And as to Ivy Coach’s crystal ball projection for the 2021-2022 admissions cycle, you ask? We think applications to elite universities will be down. We think admission rates will be up. But you don’t see America’s elite colleges suggesting as much. Yet we’re the ones who contribute to the anxiety surrounding the elite college admissions process — only of course to folks in the cheap seats who don’t know a thing about us. Because how exactly does suggesting it will be easier to get in next year serve our business? It doesn’t. But care we do not. As our loyal readers know all too well, we tell it like it is whether it serves our interests or not. If only so many of our nation’s gatekeepers at elite universities could say the same. Bye, Felicia!

 
 

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