Wondering why applications skyrocketed to our nation’s elite universities this year? While it’s true that applications to the vast majority of America’s universities were down or even this year, this was not the case at our nation’s most highly selective institutions, including the Ivy League institutions. At many of our nation’s most highly selective institutions, applications soared in an unprecedented fashion — in some cases by over 60%. In a typical year, if applications rise by a few percentage points, it’s a job well done for that admissions staff. But over 60%? That’s insane! So what led to skyrocketing applications to the Class of 2025, a class deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Colleges Transitioning to “Test-Optional” Led to Surge in Applicants Without Test Scores
Look no further than the pandemic. The pandemic, of course, led our nation’s elite schools to go “test-optional,” meaning students weren’t required to submit either an SAT or ACT score. This led to the invasion of the applicants we call the squeakers, students who thought they could squeak into a top university without a great SAT or ACT score in light of the new policy. Of course, the vast majority of these students would later find out they were mistaken. In a piece for Fast Company by Arianne Cohen entitled “College acceptance rates are tiny at these 9 selective schools,” she writes, “It’s that little global pandemic thing. Because booking spots for standardized testing became more difficult, more schools made some standardized tests optional, which opened up the flood gates. For example, 60% of applicants to Wellesley College and 40% of accepted applicants to the University of Georgia did not submit any test scores.” And the flood gates, they did open!
College Applicants Simply Had More Time on Their Hands to Submit Applications
But squeakers aren’t the only contributors to the skyrocketing applications at our nation’s elite universities. We would also attribute the unprecedented rise in applications to these schools to the phenomenon of having too much time on one’s hands. You see, with students and parents stuck at home because of the pandemic, students couldn’t get away with procrastinating and not applying Early Decision / Early Action. And they couldn’t get away with only submitting a few Regular Decision applications because they simply didn’t have the time to put together great applications to lots of other schools. They had the time. Whether or not they used this time to put together great applications or just submitted subpar applications, well, that’s a story for another day. But, with all this time on their hands, without the distractions of the outside world, and with so much uncertainty in the world today, students ended up applying to more schools — many of which, of course, were moonshots.
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