The Pandemic’s Impact on College Acceptances

If all elite colleges have canceled admitted students’ days — as they have — why would any individual elite school be so anxious about its yield so as to offer admission to more students before turning to its waitlist? The argument defies logic.

We write about highly selective college admissions every day. That includes over weekends, Christmas, Yom Kippur, and even over these scary days of the novel coronavirus pandemic. And the core objective of all of our writings on the topic is to debunk misconceptions about the highly selective college admissions process, to speak truth to power, and to make the whole process a lot less stressful for all. You see, we don’t believe that sugarcoating — or, in some cases, spinning — facts about the college admissions process makes the rite of passage less stressful. In fact, we believe just the opposite. It is through this lens that we disappointedly read a misleading headline up on Forbes today that reads: “Coronavirus Silver Lining: Easier To Get Into Many Top Colleges.”

The Pandemic Has Ushered in Some Changes This Admissions Cycle

The pandemic has, make no mistake, ushered in some changes to the highly selective college admissions process this year. ACTs, SATs, and SAT Subject Tests have been canceled in the United States until June. AP exams will be modified and offered at home. College tours — like just about all culture — has been canceled. And, about twenty years after other highly selective colleges transitioned to releasing admissions decisions via online portals or email, Georgetown University decided to join the twenty-first century by ceasing snail mailing decisions. Hooray, Georgetown!

But the Pandemic Will Not Lead to More Acceptances at Elite Schools

Yet one change that this pandemic will not usher in is a lowering of the bar in admissions over these next couple of weeks at our nation’s most elite universities. As these schools release decisions, you will note that the admission rates will be slightly higher at some of these institutions than over the last couple of years — but this is a function of smaller applicant pools at many of these institutions as we saw in the Early round. It will not be a function of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Editorialist Buried the Lead and Perpetuated a Misconception About This Year’s Admissions Cycle

In the Forbes piece, Matt Schrifrin writes, “If there is a glimmer of brightness in the current plague besetting the planet, it may be that high school seniors in the United States are suddenly more likely than ever to get proverbial ‘fat envelopes’ or acceptance letters from their dream schools, as colleges send out final letters of admission in the coming weeks.” Mr. Schrifrin then name drops one institution that is not particularly highly selective as evidence of this claim before he buries the lead: “For the highly selective institutions, like members of the Ivy League, acceptance rates and yields (the percent accepted who actually enroll) may not change significantly, in part because these rarified schools have deep inexhaustible wait lists.”

Elite Schools Have a Level Playing Field This Year Competing for Yield

And therein lies the reality: if yields are down, our nation’s highly selective colleges will just go deeper into their waitlists. These schools are not going to send out more “fat envelopes” not only because our no-touch world has inspired the last holdout among elite schools to release decisions virtually, but because the pandemic is impacting every elite university equally across the board. Admitted students’ days have been canceled at every elite institution. It’s not like Dartmouth College is hosting Dimensions of Dartmouth while the University of Pennsylvania is twiddling its thumbs since canceling Quaker Days. The playing field is level. Students are going to choose to matriculate to the school they wish to matriculate to based on the evidence they have at hand.

We urge editorialists not to perpetuate misconceptions about the highly selective college admissions process by misleadingly entitling their pieces and burying the lead. We urge editorialists not to encourage false hope. In our experience in the world of highly selective college admissions, folks want to hear the cold hard truth. Especially in times like these.


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