The Ivy Coach Daily

May 2, 2022

It Was Harder Last Year in Admissions, Really

Last year, about 20% of seats at many elite universities were filled with gap year students from the previous year. That was simply not the case this year (photo credit: Bryan Y.W. Shin).

We’ve been receiving a number of emails from prospective clients in which they bemoan, “We heard it was the toughest admissions cycle ever this past year.” Now, while it does elicit an eye roll fro us, it’s not like we haven’t heard this one before. Heck, we hear it every year from prospective clients — all as elite colleges, year after year, decade after decade, boast how it was the most competitive year ever at their respective institutions. But was this year really the most competitive year ever? Applications surged at most — though not all — highly selective universities. Admission rates dropped to record lows. So it seems obvious that the answer is yes, it really was the most competitive year ever for the Class of 2026.

Wrong. Sorry, parents of students who did not earn admission to the colleges of their dreams during this past admissions cycle but it was most certainly not the most competitive year ever in the history of elite college admissions. The second most competitive? Maybe. But it wasn’t the most competitive. That distinct belongs to parents of the Class of 2025 — or parents of students who are currently wrapping up their first year in college. You see, applications were up at many elite universities this year but they weren’t up as big as they were — percentage-wise — last year. But, more significantly, last year, about 20% of seats at many elite universities were pre-filled with students admitted to the Class of 2024 who opted to take gap years. Yes, applicants to the Class of 2025 applied in a year in which 20% fewer seats were available for the taking. That was simply not the case this year.

As we have articulated time and again on the pages of this college admissions blog, just because applications are up at a given institution, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more competitive than ever before. You have to look past the numbers. After all, when so many elite universities dropped testing requirements, it inspired a number of students whom we’ve deemed Squeakers to apply: students without SAT or ACT scores who thought they could slip into a top school without test scores. But, of course, colleges aren’t being forthright about their test-optional policies — all else being equal, students with great scores will always have an advantage over students with no scores. And more students applying without test scores doesn’t necessarily make an applicant pool more competitive just as more C students applying to Harvard doesn’t make the Harvard applicant pool more competitive — just seemingly more competitive.

So, parents of applicants to the Class of 2026, you had it rough. But you didn’t have it as rough as parents of applicants to the Class of 2025. Not even close. Heck, compared to last year, you had it relatively easy. Sorry to disappoint.

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